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One Writer's World

Can a ChatGPT really write?

For the last few days I've been coming across discussions about AI, specifically the ChaptGPT, a new AI technology that can produce essays, articles, even book-length manuscripts. As a writer, I have the same visceral fear as many others: does this mean I'm out of a job? The short answer is no. The long answer is in a sample of the ChatGPT product, below.
First, I asked a friend who loves this techie stuff (and understands it) to ask it a question: Can it detect historical errors in mystery novels? I asked that because I had been thinking about writing a post on the quiet but ongoing hubbub surrounding a minor historical error in an otherwise delightful and intelligent mystery featuring a much loved and admired historical figure. My friend and I got talking about it, and this sample of the ChatGPT is the result. Any good writer will recognize the problem. I've trimmed the original text for space considerations but you'll be able to guess that not much is missing.
                Minor Historical Errors in Mystery Novels: A Guide for Readers
Mystery novels have always been a popular genre, captivating audiences with their twists and turns, and puzzling clues. But while they may be entertaining, they are not always historically accurate. In fact, many mystery novels contain small historical errors that can detract from the reader's enjoyment of the story. Here's a guide to some of the most common minor historical errors found in mystery novels and how they can be corrected.

1. Incorrect dates: One of the most common historical errors in mystery novels is the use of incorrect dates. For example, a character may refer to a historical event as having occurred in the wrong year or the wrong century. These errors can often be easily corrected by checking historical records or consulting a reliable source.

2. Inaccurate fashion: Another common error in mystery novels is the depiction of fashion from a particular time period. For example, a character may wear clothing or accessories that were not popular during the time period in which the story takes place. To correct these errors, authors should research the fashion of the era in question and ensure that their characters' clothing and accessories match the period.

3. Misleading language: Another common error in mystery novels is the use of language that is misleading or incorrect. For example, a character may use a word or phrase that was not in use during the time period in which the story takes place. To avoid these errors, authors should consult a reliable historical dictionary or resource.

4. Misrepresentation of technology: In some mystery novels, the depiction of technology can be incorrect. . . .

5. Geographical inaccuracies: Another common error in mystery novels is the depiction of geography. . . To avoid these errors, authors should consult maps . . .
In conclusion, minor historical errors in mystery novels can detract from the reader's enjoyment of the story. However, by researching the time period and consulting reliable sources, authors can ensure that their works are accurate and enjoyable for all readers. So, next time you're reading a mystery novel, keep an eye out for these common errors and enjoy the story with the peace of mind that comes from knowing the details are correct.
Nothing in the text is wrong or misleading, but the writer (and careful reader) should recognize the problem. Aside from being slick, wordy, and repetitive, the essay says almost nothing beyond the obvious and superficial. There are no specific examples from published novels, no discussion on how important one error compared to another might be, and no broader discussion on the drive for accuracy as opposed to the drive for other aspects—characterization, for example. The style is generic and nondescript, more like a neutered business text. But the issue is errors in fiction.
Suppose Mr. Macawber couldn't subtract? Would it matter? If a writer (like me) called the bridge over the Mystic River the Mystic River Bridge in a story set in the 1970s, would my reader care? (The name was changed to the Tobin Bridge in 1967.) Every time I go over the bridge I'm confused about the name. I live here but it doesn't help. Every time a city or town changes the name of something, I'm set adrift. It matters to me as a writer and as a resident, but I doubt anyone in Michigan or Arizona would notice or care. Still, I want to use the correct name for the time in question.
To me the ChatGPT essay above is no more than the basic instruction a teacher would give her students assigned to write an essay, laying out how to construct a paragraph. If this is what the ChatGPT produces, even if it becomes more sophisticated, I don't know any writers in danger from it. But where meaningless verbiage is called for, rest assured ChatGPT work is already present, and will grow more common over time.

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Listening to an AI voice

This morning life became a bit surreal for me. You may have heard about ChatGPT; this is AI writing books and essays well enough to fool people and let students get A grades without any effort. Education on writing and thinking will be replaced, along with writers who create novels and research articles. At least that's the fear.
You and I may fear our writing skills and imaginations are no longer enough to compete in the literary marketplace but this morning I learned that it gets worse: we may be displaced in another realm—interviews on a podcast. On the CyberWire website, Brandon Karpf interviews AI, after it has been given a voice (with a British accent), and then discusses the interview with Rick Howard. The IT voice sounds reasonable and polite all the way through, even able to explore the problems with AI, which the two humans discuss at greater length at the end of the interview with AI.
I'll admit that I was slow to adopt computer technology because I found the earlier computers frustrating to use. Typing on a typewriter with paper was easier. Also in the beginning I read short and long pieces that had been sent out into the world before they were ready, in my view. Getting something finished so easily on a computer tended to lead the author to believe that the essay or book was actually finished. The pages of an essay never looked finished on a typewriter until the work had been fully rewritten and polished, but that stage could easily be ignored on a computer. Writers have dealt with this temptation and now know to question the assumption that something is finished because the page looks so perfect. But AI now offers greater temptations.
Some of this is funny. The AI voice could offer "advice" to the writers on how to correct the weaknesses in an essay. How easy would it be to slip in all sorts of material to undermine—what?—facts, confidence, conclusions? I don't know, but here is the interview for those of you ready to hear a software (?) talk.
You can listen to the podcast here.

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