Is ChatGPT’s AI the Damnation of Imagination? Why I Want My Funk Uncut

Is ChatGPT’s AI the Damnation of Imagination? Why I Want My Funk Uncut

Last Thanksgiving’s launch of ChatGPT, an AI tool that writes like a human, prompted many on the web, especially those of us making our living crafting words, to wonder: Is this the end of human writing?

That’s pretty much how Sean Thomas sums it up in the Spectator: “We are screwed. By which I mean: we, the writers. We’re screwed. Writing is over. That’s it. It’s time to pack away your quill, your biro, and your shiny iPad: the computers will soon be here to do it better.”

I’ll admit I’m a little scared, or at the very least a bit nervous – not just for myself, but the whole human race. Because the real question that gnaws in the pits of our stomachs: Is this the end of human thinking, the end of imagination?

In November, OpenAI, the artificial intelligence company, released ChatGPT, a free tool that generates poetry, blogs, even screenplays and fantasy novels based on user prompts. And it’s impressively good, or at least good enough to not sound like a bot. 

Feeling nostalgic, I asked ChatGPT to write a poem about the Timex/Sinclair 1000, the first computer I had as a kid. It plugged into the TV and ran memory off the same tape deck we played Menudo cassettes. Check out the unedited results: 

 

A computer small and green and sleek,

The Timex/Sinclair 1000 unique,

With memory small, but truly chic,

It was a tech lover's dream come true peak.

 

It may not have been the best,

But it was ours and we were blessed,

To tinker and play,

With its simple yet elegant display.

 

Though it's gone now and out of date,

We'll remember it with fondness and no hate,

For the Timex/Sinclair 1000,

Will always hold a special place in our heart and head sum.

Aside from that last line (a special place in our heart and head sum???), the poem doesn’t read like a bot. It’s not exactly Robert Frost on ice, but it’s at least readable and passes somewhat for a human. 

Since its launch a few months ago, ChatGPT has gone lightning viral. In just five days, it landed 1 million registered users, making it the fastest-growing app ever, and is expected to cross 1 billion users by the end of the first quarter of 2023. 

In the last few months, ChatGPT has threatened everything from higher education to the film industry. With a couple of prompts, college students can churn out straight-A term papers in seconds. The thesis as we know may very well become obsolete like those Menudo cassettes. There’s talk of it someday replacing college professors, Wall Street day traders, and software engineers.

Some even propose it’s coming after our very thoughts. Our CEO Anthony Bear asked ChatGPT for original business ideas. It suggested:

 

  1. Personalized nutrition plan based on DNA analysis
  2. Bio-based and biodegradable materials for 3D printing
  3. Virtual interior design consultation services

 

Why bother thinking if a machine spits it faster?

 

 

Are We All Just Matrix Battery Fodder?

Are humans doomed to become nothing but cheese puff-consuming, video game-playing couch potatoes where the AI does all the heavy thinking for us? Or worse – embryonic battery pods, keeping the ChatGPT3000 Matrix always charged at 100%?

Does the human imagination have built-in planned obsolescence, doomed to be replaced by the gadgets we create?

That would be tragic because machines lack Soul, the Blues, the Give Up the Funk.

Hallam, the SEO company, ran a little experiment. They published essentially the same blog twice, one written by a bot, the other by a human, and tracked the results. The two blogs ended up running neck and neck, with the AI blog ultimately taking the lead with a slightly larger number of impressions and better SEO rankings.

But when a human reads both blogs, the AI blog lacks soul. You can taste the can in the SPAM. It doesn’t sound original, lacks imaginative spark, and feels a bit ripped off. Of course, that’s exactly what the AI is doing – ripping off the Internet and reflecting the mass of the web back at you.

ChatGPT is the beefcake in the back of the class, looking over your shoulder and copying every answer – but in AI’s case, it’s the entire Internet. 

Sure, AI scores well, technically. Search engines seem to like it, but what about the reader, the human in the face of the blog, the very soul you’re ultimately striving to connect to, resonate and influence with your content?

After all, that’s the whole goal of Google’s Helpful Content update last year: “to better reward content where visitors feel they've had a satisfying experience.” And I suspect the Google gods will eventually evolve to better recognize AI and penalize it appropriately. 

In his blog, Sean Thomas writes: 

“All writing is an algorithm. As in: all writing is ‘a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations’. The fundamental problem to be solved in writing is how to impart information in the form of words. Computers are good at algorithms. It’s their thing.”

And sure, writing at its base core is an algorithm, mainly because it’s a pain in the ass. You have to start somewhere to get the juices flowing. Otherwise, you’ll stare away all day at a blank screen and wonder when you’ll be replaced by an R2D2 with no personality. 

 

The Human Lightning Bolt 

But it’s that spark, that lightning bolt, that truly makes writing sizzle. The best writers are more like lightning rods – summoning an exterior universal consciousness that is almost infinite and divine. That’s true for the best poetry and novels, but it’s also true for journalism and marketing content, at least to some extent.

AI can’t do that. It just copies – washes, rinses, and repeats.

Twenty-two-year-old Princeton University Edward Tian spent his New Year’s writing a bot that can detect the presence of AI in writing. The tool, GPTZero, can identify the influence of a machine by measuring two things in a piece of writing: its perplexity and burstiness, in other words, the rhythm of the sentence structure. 

The best writing has a complex rhythm in its composition like Stuart Copeland of the Police. AI content tends to produce that synthesizer beat you rocked out to in the Walmart music aisle in the early ‘90s. 

At its heart and soul, writing is musical imagination. Do you really want it played by a machine, or do you want Funkadelic with the bass plugged into the Cosmos? Which content will resonate with your audience, not just rank on a metric, but truly influence the human potential – that heart-beating rhythm of imagination?

Tell stories that matter – not bullshit. That’s what keeps our culture thriving and alive, what keeps people thriving and alive. In the end, it’s human imagination – not canned SPAM – that makes the world a better place.

Plug in your brain, live it loud and keep the funk. That’s what will make life worth living in the land of machines. “Make my funk the P. Funk. I want my funk uncut.”

 

Listen to Bear's full interview with Chat GPT on our podcast, In the Chair with Bear.

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Martin Luther King’s Perennial Dreams: What’s Happened to Leadership?

Martin Luther King’s Perennial Dreams: What’s Happened to Leadership?

Waking up this morning over a steaming cup of coffee, a meme suggesting Trump crapped himself caught me off guard and immediately stole 20 minutes of my soul.

 I laughed, as anyone who still can should. And then I Googled “Trump poops pants in public” because, well, that’s the world we live in these days.

You can find an image of the 45th president, post golf swing, with an obvious brown stain down the back of his trousers. Turns out that image was Photoshopped. But it’s totally believable, considering the legal turd hurricane our former president increasingly finds himself in. No matter your take on MAGA, who wouldn’t mess themselves wearing those golf pants?

Maybe not the best way to begin the day that honors the legacy of MLK, I’ll admit. 

And then I thought: “What’s happened to our leaders?”

 

Elon Tweets, Phallic Space Ships, and the Bronterocs of Despair

 

If we’re honest with ourselves, we must sadly admit none of our leaders lately have made a historical impact anywhere close to the scale of Martin Luther King Jr.

Take even Obama. We got some inspiring speeches, some half-crap healthcare that I suppose is better than no healthcare at all, and sure, he looked good, even in a tan suit – but it was nothing like the Hope poster promised.

And Biden’s building highways and backing unions, which is great, but even on the best days, his presidency kinda tastes like flat Pepsi Zero that’s a little too warm. 

Yet the Baby Boomer generation grew up on Martin Luther King, both Kennedys, Malcolm X, and Maya Angelou – all while Wavy Gravy slopped buckets full of pancakes at Woodstock 

King was assassinated on the verge of launching a campaign to end poverty in America. Maya Angelou heard the tragic news on her 40th birthday, just as she was preparing to raise money for his Poor People’s March.

These days, we wake up to Elon Musk battling COVID scientists on Twitter and praising his Tesla self-driving pencil pushers when a nine-car pile-up on the Bay Bridge sends a two-year-old to the hospital over a software failure of the same self-driving technology. 

Even Black Lives Matter, a much-needed and inspiring movement, is mired in a disappointing financial scandal that makes you question the very motives of humanity.

Sadly, so many of our leaders today are greedy narcissists, launching themselves into the galaxy on billion-dollar phallic spaceships with the insane ambition of becoming bronteroc lunch like Meryl Streep.

 

The Hope and Sunrise of Next Generations

 

It’s enough to leave you bitter and fall into pits of hopeless despair. Sometimes I look at my beautiful daughter and wonder, what kind of world are we leaving them?

 

But today honors Martin Luther King’s birthday, a day better spent remembering his words: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

 

And then I think about Raymond Mohler, Jr., who launched the Little St. Nick Foundation when he was just five years old. He’s grown now into an altruistic young man, but his charity continues to provide over 300 inspirational gift bags to sick kids in the hospital every single day. The organization helps kids in crisis smile and remember the joys of childhood when they find themselves in a scary place such as a children’s hospital. 

 

As a father, I find incredible inspiration in the dad who had his son’s birthmark tattooed on his chest so the child could transform his feelings of embarrassment into a solidarity of empowerment.

 

Because our youth are our hope of the future. Say what you want about the Millennials, the Zoomers, and the Alphas, okay Boomer, but the ambitions of upcoming generations are actually pretty inspiring. 

 

Even the hearts of many young pro football players beat where it counts. When Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field of an apparent heart attack this month, it was the players and their union who postponed the game out of respect and concern for their colleague. The NFL had insisted they play on. 

 

Hamlin’s heart may be tender, but it’s tender in the right place. Donations that poured in following the crisis raised over $8 million for children in need. Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation has partnered with The Giving Back Fund, a national charity umbrella organization, to handle the deluge of donations. You too can donate to it here.

 

No, you don’t see Hamlin going into space, but you do see him looking up with genuine empathy for others who struggle.

 

And he's just one example. Hamlin’s “opponent” – Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow – has raised over $1.3 million through the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund. Last October on Instagram, Burrow wrote this Mantra: “Everyone has a responsibility to do good.” 

 

Even before he went pro, in his speech accepting the Heisman Trophy, Burrow dedicated 31 seconds to some of the low-income friends he played and went to high school with in his poor Appalachian town of Athens, Ohio. That speech raised over a million dollars for the Athens Food Pantry, which had an annual budget of $70,000 to $100,000 before Joe’s speech went viral. You can donate to it here

 

Maybe MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign didn’t die in 1968. It’s alive and flourishing in the most unexpected places. Martin Luther King’s dreams were big but they’re steadily coming true. 

Perennial Responsibilities and the Mountaintop 

In the WiFi cafe where I write this, some hipster hero of a barista posted this sign in the bathroom: “You can do it. People overcome addiction every day.” The poster provides addiction support for the next desperate individual who uses that john to shoot up.

Those baristas may serve me up drip coffee and String Cheese calzones for a living, but they’ve got the golden hearts of professional football stars.

On the day of MLK’s assassination, a bomb threat specifically targeting King and his plane delayed his arrival in Memphis. That incident helped inspire his last prophetic speech:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the Mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the Mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

The Promised Land belongs to our children and their grandchildren. King’s ideals and dreams are perennial, buried in this cold winter ground like tiger lilies. 

I look to my daughter, to all the Earth’s children, and I no longer “wallow in the valley of despair.” 

Please understand one day, through great work and effort to come, “all of God's children, Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”

Because we all have “a responsibility to do good.” Let’s begin today and every day dedicated to that good, whether in the bathrooms of coffee shops, on the fields of the NFL, or in the living rooms where our children play.

True great leadership begins with each and every one of us. Go to the Mountain. 

Trust me – what you do is important, especially the little things, because hope is perennial. Even in the cold and dark of winter, its roots cannot die.

Happy birthday, MLK!