Welcome to the era where AI algorithms play apart in every aspect of our lives, now including the writing industry itself. Yes, we’re talking about ChatGPT. Why all the glares? Well, history gives us some insight into this human trend of mistrusting new tools. Every time we’ve invented something transformative, we’ve greeted it with fear before realizing its potential to boost our creativity. Today, let's go for a walk down that memory lane to help us understand this phenomenon better.
The Evolution of Tools and Fear:
The intertwining rhythm of innovation and apprehension has long been threaded into the tapestry of human history, rearing its head with every significant technological leap.
Consider, for instance, the advent of the first musical instruments, the rudimentary flutes fashioned from bone or wood. Before these creations, our ancestors relied solely on the natural capabilities of their own bodies for musical expression, such as singing or whistling. The birth of instruments extended an individual's musical capacity beyond these inherent skills, leading to a soundscape that was richer and more varied. But as these tools began to alter the 'natural' music humans were used to, one can't help but wonder, was there a ripple of fear, a twinge of trepidation at this disruption of the status quo?
Fast forward to the era of Socrates, who viewed the advent of writing with suspicion. He expressed concern that writing could lead to forgetfulness, a reliance that might undermine our innate capacity for memory and internal wisdom. He was apprehensive about this new form of knowledge acquisition, believing that true knowledge stemmed from active dialogue and introspection, not the passive absorption of written text. But look around you; has writing obliterated our memory or given us the gift of recorded history, literature, and even knowledge about Socrates?
The arrival of the printing press, a groundbreaking innovation, met with similar fears. It democratized knowledge, making books more accessible, and upsetting the scribes, the sitting guardians of the written word. They saw this invention as a threat to their craftsmanship. Nevertheless, the printing press didn’t eliminate the art of calligraphy; it simply reshaped its role in society, liberating the written word to grow and evolve.
The advent of the camera marked a significant shift in the artistic landscape as well. Traditional painters, who were once highly sought for their ability to render lifelike portraits, found themselves facing an unexpected competitor - the camera, which could replicate reality with mechanical precision. This challenge, rather than extinguishing artistic spirit, acted as a catalyst for creative evolution.
A split in the market occurred. Those desiring the straightforward realism that photography offered were drawn to this accessible medium, while those valuing the unique creativity and skill intrinsic to hand-painted portraits remained loyal patrons.
Interestingly, the camera provided an inclusive platform for those lacking traditional painting techniques but possessing an intuitive understanding of emotion and composition. Through photography, they found an alternative means to communicate their visions effectively. Thus, the invention of the camera not only diversified but also democratized artistic expression.
Despite the advent of photography, painting did not become obsolete. Rather, it allowed painters to break free from the confines of realism and explore diverse styles and themes, leading to innovative movements like Impressionism and Abstract art. Notably, the rise of photography has actually allowed more people to engage in painting as a hobby, even generating some form of revenue from it. This accessibility has further enriched the world of art.
Moreover, many modern painters have found fame and fortune through the distribution of photographs of their works, demonstrating how these two art forms can coexist and even elevate each other. Although there might be fewer painters making a living solely from their art, those who do, and even those who pursue it as a hobby, are socioeconomically far ahead of the ancient artists who inspired them. These artists, despite their talent, often lived in an era where the value of art was not fully recognized, and tragically, many died alone and unknown.
The Turning Point: The Camera to CGI
The changes instigated by the camera were profound, not only altering artistic practices but also our interactions with art. Yet, the technological evolution did not halt with photography. As we advanced into the digital age, a new tool emerged: Computer Generated Imagery (CGI). This new medium offered artists an even broader spectrum of expression and presented audiences with unprecedented ways to perceive and appreciate art.
Consider the evolution of cartooning with the advent of CGI. Initially met with resistance, especially from traditionalists who revered the art of hand-drawn animation, CGI was viewed as an existential threat. But just as photography didn't extinguish painting, CGI didn't kill cartooning—it transformed it.
CGI differentiated those content to reproduce the same image frame by frame from the innovators who sought to push the boundaries of their art. These innovators saw CGI not as a threat but as an opportunity—a tool that could enhance their work, enabling them to create worlds previously confined to their imaginations.
Take Pixar, for example. It didn't merely produce cartoons—it crafted narratives that moved audiences of all ages. By leveraging the capabilities of CGI, Pixar elevated the art of animation, creating visually breathtaking and emotionally rich films that have left an indelible mark on the industry.
In essence, the history of creative tools reveals that while they may disrupt established norms and provoke initial resistance, they invariably serve to separate those who resist change from those who embrace it. They weed out the mundane and elevate the art form, enabling true artists to explore new avenues of expression and creativity. The fears associated with the advent of new technology are often short-lived and are outweighed by the artistic and societal benefits that these tools bring.
The Misunderstanding About AI in Writing
The advent of artificial intelligence in writing has spurred fear and resistance reminiscent of past encounters with new technology. Writers, like scribes and painters of old, perceive AI as a threat. However, much of this concern stems from misunderstanding rather than an objective appraisal of the technology's potential.
A noteworthy segment of the writing community perceives AI as a mechanistic tool, threatening to strip the craft of its creative core. What we need to understand is that the lack of creativity and critical thinking in online writing predates the introduction of AI tools in this field. Yet, the individuals voicing this concern are often the skilled writers themselves—those who stand to gain most from embracing AI. In resisting AI, they overlook a potential ally that could elevate their work, enhance their creative process, and redefine what it means to be a writer in the digital age.
While we shouldn't hand a scientific calculator to a third-grader learning arithmetic, it would be negligent for a civil engineer to not use a calculator to validate their calculations. Similarly, the reluctance to use tools such as spell check before submitting work to an editor isn't a practice of "organic writing"—it's a disregard for professionalism.
Of course, when backed into this corner, the most vocal opponents of AI in writing often raise ethical concerns about bots capable of plagiarism. They argue that language models like ChatGPT merely regurgitate their training data. However, this perspective misunderstands how AI works. AI generates entirely new text, drawing on patterns and structures it has learned from a vast dataset. In this regard, the process mirrors human learning and writing—we consume information from various sources, process it, and articulate our unique ideas. In fact, AI arguably has an edge over humans when it comes to avoiding even accidental plagiarism, thanks to its algorithm which ensures the creation of entirely new text, not on a level of legal proof, but mathematical proof.
Unfounded fears of AI technology threaten to stifle its potential benefits. For instance, publications like Fanfare, with their staunch anti-AI stance, only contribute to the growing misinformation:
"Any aspiring writers who submit AI-generated content will be barred at the gates like the uncivilized barbarians they are." -Fanfare's official AI policy (admittedly, I can see this statement is true craftsmanship.)
In reality, those who reject the use of AI in writing aren't the gatekeepers of culture—they are the gatekeepers of the status quo. Like those who rejected the camera or the printing press, they are the ones standing in the way of progress. The true 'barbarians at the gate' aren't the writers using AI, but those resisting change and innovation, inhibiting societal advancement just as previous generations did when faced with the transformative inventions of their time.
The New Frontier: AI in Writing
Just as previous tools redefined their fields, artificial intelligence in writing isn't a threat to all writers but just the mediocre ones. Sure, ChatGPT can churn out a concise 200-word movie summary in mere seconds. However, those who believe that it can produce a nuanced philosophical argument, maintaining coherence and consistency throughout 15 minutes of text with that same swift efficiency hold a romantic, bordering on superstitious, view of the technology.
With the advent of AI in writing, we find ourselves in a new frontier teeming with questions of originality and ownership. Who is the real author of a piece generated by AI? Who should bear the responsibility for misinformation or flaws within the work?
The answer to these concerns may not be as complex as we make it out to be, and I'd say it aligns quite coherently with our existing norms for authorship and accountability. AI is an amplifier, not a replacement, for human creativity, insight, or ethical judgment. Therefore, the writer who used AI to create a piece, edited its output, and chose to publish the work is, in essence, the author and should be both credited and held accountable. If you like this article, I am the one who composed it… if this article gets something wrong, I would be the one who allowed misinformation to be published, not OpenAI, and hence it’s my credibility that should suffer.
Out of all the criticisms levied against AI, the one that carries the most weight in the final analysis would be the issue of biases. It's worth noting, however, that this isn't unique to AI - the human intellect is just as prone to biases. The crucial difference is that AI biases are both measurable and manageable by the user. Most refreshingly, AI, particularly ChatGPT, makes errors not out of malice or greed but due to sheer stupidity, making it a lot easier to spot so long as you’re writing about a topic you actually understand. The potential to master this interplay between amazing yet fallible human intuition and amazing yet fallible machine precision is a hallmark of this new era of writing.
“The Machine is only a tool after all, which can help humanity progress faster by taking some of the burdens of calculations and interpretations off its back. The task of the human brain remains what it has always been, that of discovering new data to be analyzed, and of devising new concepts to be tested. A pity the Society for Humanity won’t understand that. I notice that capable men are still at a premium in our society; we still need the man who is intelligent enough to think of the proper questions to ask." - i. Robot, Asimov
In the context of this discussion, it seems that the ethical question isn't whether it's wrong to use AI in non-fiction writing, but whether it's unethical not to utilize this powerful tool when it can so profoundly enhance our creativity and output quality. Think of an engineer who refuses to use a scientific calculator for a complicated construction project in the name of “organic engineering.” This isn't nobility; it's negligence. It's analogous to writers who campaign against the potential of AI - they aren't preserving some form of "pure" writing, they are denying progress. The new frontier of writing with AI beckons us to explore, innovate, and redefine our craft for the better.
Alright, alright, It’s one thing to acknowledge the potential of AI in writing, but I see how putting it into practice might seem daunting. The next section will demystify this process, providing one explicit roadmap for how I personally leverage ChatGPT in my writing process. Since the technology is so new, and the stigma is so high, it’s hard for me to point at concrete tangible instances of the benefits described above, I offer this methodology both as just one possible example of how ChatGPT could usher in a new era of high-caliber content creation in general, as well as a practical way you may be able to use AI to elevate your writing in particular.
Using AI in Writing: A Personal Process
Integrating AI, specifically ChatGPT, into my writing process isn’t about turning out mediocre articles at breakneck speeds, in fact, my articles usually take about a week to come to fruition (according to Google, the average length of time spent on a blog article is about 3.5 - 4 hours, while mine take between 15 - 20 hours). However, the combined result of human creativity and AI precision is undeniably worth it, delivering articles with the internal consistency of a textbook.
My AI application isn't about reducing effort; it's about elevating quality. Leveraging AI, I can channel my energy into unearthing novel insights, identifying unseen connections, and crafting unique ideas. ChatGPT plays its part by shaping these elements into a coherent, engaging narrative.
Let's dive into the specifics of my personal approach. Remember, this is not a universal guide to using AI in writing but an account of my method. Hopefully, this will inspire you to explore and create your own AI-integrated writing process.
Step 1: Importance of Prior Reading and Knowledge
My writings delve into philosophy, spirituality, and religion, fields that demand a vast knowledge base. Building this base is what Neil Gaiman refers to as creating a 'mental compost heap,' a term I first heard in his MasterClass on writing. This heap is an amalgamation of ideas and information I've acquired through extensive reading and rereading, serving as the fertile ground from which unique, nuanced article ideas bloom.
The composting process, a testament to time, repetition, and patience, involves revisiting books, uncovering fresh perspectives, and finding subtle insights missed during the first read. To make my personal compost heap more accessible, I’ve created The Fool’s Reading List page for those interested. About 75% of the seeds for my blog articles are scattered throughout those works (in fact, as much as I appreciate you reading my work, your time would probably be far better served reading them. For instance, “Enlightenment Now” by Steven Pinker, does the historical 'fear of innovation' much better justice than I do here.)
Note that the nature of your writing determines how you build your knowledge base. For me, I focus on reading, introspection, and dialogues due to the philosophical nature of my writing. However, any type of experience can be committed to your compost heap, and those who do perhaps more technical, instructional, or academic writing will, of course, have different processes and standards regarding the size and contents of their mental compost heap.
Step 2: Utilizing a Focus Group for Writing Prompts
I have a cherished circle of friends who share my areas of interest and knowledge. They act as a sounding board for my ideas and offer a variety of writing prompts, many of which evolve into my articles.
If you don't have such a group, other resources like Google Trends can help. It offers insights into trending topics and can help identify what readers are interested in. The key, however, is to stay authentic to your own interests while creating content that resonates with your audience.
While this step is not exclusive to AI writing, it's a critical element in producing content that connects with societal interests. After all, a compelling blogger is one who can effectively cater to the interests and concerns of their readers while staying true to their own intellectual pursuits.
Step 3: Engaging with ChatGPT in the Idea Formulation Stage
In my writing process, Step 3 takes on a crucial role, divided into two distinct phases. The first phase involves a thoughtful dialogue with ChatGPT. I present the overarching idea I want my article to convey, clarifying and refining it until the AI comprehends the broad strokes fully.
The second phase sees me taking the role of devil’s advocate. I leverage ChatGPT’s analytical prowess to critique and probe my idea from various angles. This iterative process of questioning and refining is instrumental in fortifying my arguments.
At times, this scrutiny leads to the revelation that the idea isn’t quite ripe for an article. The reasons can vary: perhaps the arguments don’t stand up under logical examination, indicating the idea may need to be discarded. Alternatively, the idea could be fascinating, but I find it requires further research to do the topic justice. In such cases, the idea is shelved for the time being, and I make a point to add relevant materials to my library. These materials then become a part of my compost heap, allowing the idea to mature until it’s ready for revisitation.
These conclusions aren’t discouraging, but serve as a vital self-check. They ensure I only proceed with ideas that are mature, robust, and prepared to weather the scrutiny of the writing process and, ultimately, the readers.
Step 4: Crafting the Blueprint with ChatGPT
Once an idea has made it through the third step, it’s time to work with ChatGPT to formulate a detailed blueprint for the article. This blueprint is akin to the comprehensive plan for a house, detailing everything right down to the plumbing. The purpose of this detailed blueprint is twofold: The first and most immediate benefit of this blueprint is to serve as a roadmap for the entire article, ensuring integration and coherence as the different sections are generated. Secondly, it serves as a training resource for new ChatGPT sessions. As a philosophical writer, this is incredibly valuable when I want to expand on a point I’ve already covered in a previous article. I can feed ChatGPT the blueprint of the past article, facilitating an easy integration of the necessary points into the new article.
Being careful not to venture beyond my existing knowledge base is key during this stage. Overreaching can cause an imbalance in the generation stage, as ChatGPT may start to roam into uncharted territory based on these new points. This can lead the article astray, creating a scenario much like the deaf leading the blind. With this in mind, I scrutinize and refine the blueprint, subsequently asking ChatGPT to generate a preliminary draft of the article based on this meticulously crafted plan.
Step 5: Using ChatGPT for Article Generation
Armed with a comprehensive blueprint, I move to the article generation stage. The process involves feeding the entirety of the numbered blueprint to ChatGPT and instructing it to create each section of the article individually. By focusing on one section at a time, I ensure logical continuity and preserve the intended tone throughout the piece.
During this stage, I may have to generate a particular section multiple times, suggesting revisions to ChatGPT until I have a draft that I’m satisfied with. While it might seem laborious, this iterative process greatly contributes to the quality of the final product.
It’s important to note that I am not excessively concerned with each semantic detail at this stage. As long as the generated draft clearly conveys the intended point, and I can recall the essence when revisiting, it’s sufficient for the current stage. However, the beauty of a well-crafted blueprint is that the AI often produces surprisingly accurate and well-edited sections, minimizing the need for extensive semantic corrections.
This step is where the blend of AI precision and human creativity truly shines. Rather than replacing my efforts, the AI complements and amplifies my ability to create meaningful content. It allows me to focus more on the insights and the formation of ideas, enhancing the overall creative process.
Step 6: The Power of Repetition and Feedback
Upon reaching Step 6, the skeleton of the article is complete, it’s starting to get some meat on its bones, and now, the process of refinement begins. I use Speechify, an AI text-to-speech tool, to listen to the draft …repeatedly. Hearing my words spoken aloud provides a fresh perspective, helping me identify areas that need polishing for logic, tone, and overall natural flow.
The merciless repetition aids me in making micro adjustments, but it's only in conjunction with critical feedback where the true refining happens. I engage with ChatGPT again, requesting it to critically analyze the rough drafts. This might entail revisiting earlier steps, adjusting the blueprint, and regenerating sections until each one strikes the perfect balance between accuracy and readability, and I arrive at my “completed final draft”
This is where I bring my focus group back into the loop, presenting them with the final draft. Their perspectives, questions, and critiques give me the insights necessary to finalize my writing. This feedback helps me avoid any blind spots, ensuring my article is comprehensive and digestible to a broader audience.
Step 7: The Final Edit and Enhancement
As I transition into Step 7, I dedicate an entire day to the “Finishing” stage. Here, I finetune the draft, carefully integrating feedback from my focus group, and apply what I refer to as the 'human touch.' I ensure the text maintains its rigorous integrity while exuding a warmth that is uniquely human, making the reading experience enjoyable for my audience.
At this stage, my perspective shifts from writer to reader. I go through my article with a 'fresh pair of eyes,' aiming to create an engaging narrative flow. I pepper the content with humorous analogies and interesting asides, transforming the article into a piece as enjoyable to read as it was for me to write.
In my pursuit to demystify complex philosophical concepts, I always try to translate them into digestible, relatable terms for a mainstream audience, while ensuring the core argument’s nuance remains intact. I tend to avoid jargon whenever possible, opting instead for more descriptive sentences that carry the weight of the concept without muddying comprehension (for more on this strategy, see The Layman’s Compasses).
However, there are instances when introducing new terminology is unavoidable for the sake of an argument. In such cases, I’ll attach Wikipedia links to the technical terms to provide immediate context and understanding. Moreover, I link back to my previous articles that offer further exploration of related concepts that might only be briefly touched upon in the current article.
After this final edit, the article stands ready – a product of a careful blend of AI precision and human creativity, rigorous logic, and relatable warmth.
Incorporating AI in your writing doesn't necessarily imply a magic solution or belittlement of the craft. It is a tool, a powerful instrument that can push the boundaries of our work, refining narratives and raising the bar of quality.
I urge fellow writers to consider AI not as a shortcut, but a technological leverage for boosting creativity. It doesn't subtract from your effort but adds a measure of exactness and sophistication that can enhance your work's impact.
In the end, it's about uniting the strength of human creativity with the precision of artificial intelligence. This synergistic approach can usher in a new era of writing, redefining quality and opening unexplored frontiers in the realm of storytelling.
As we approach the end of our discussion, I invite you to reflect on the incredible synthesis of the creative, intuitive power of the human mind with the methodical precision and logic of artificial intelligence. This melding of the organic and the digital heralds a thrilling new chapter in the realm of writing, opening up avenues that could revolutionize the landscape of composition and storytelling. Let us embrace this symbiosis, not with trepidation, but with anticipation for the extraordinary caliber of prose it promises to generate.