Egads! I am feeling a bit pushed into obsolescence lately. I do not like it. It is not the typical generational push to make room for the up and comers.
My husband Paul and I have been making space since retiring from careers. We also have done our most, especially lately to provide job security in health care, yard care, and housekeeping care in addition to pharmaceutical and medical supply industries.
Instead, it is advanced technology that promises the computer will write essays if the request is sufficiently inputted, and the right icon or buttons are clicked to allow it to do its work.
Generally, such a program is known as artificial intelligence, or AI, the essence of which is the ability of a computer to do the work usually done by humans. An annoying example is the robot voices that answer many calls to get help for a problem that does not fit any of the choices offered … nor does the uncaring voice respond to a phone banging on the desk.
Specifically, an essay writing program called Chat GPT is available on the internet. Wikipedia defines Chat GPT “as its acronym indicates, Generative Pre-training Transformer, Chat GPT is a generative language model based on the ‘transformer’ architecture. These models are capable of processing large amounts of text and learning to perform natural language processing tasks very effectively.”
‘In lieu of me’
I got a taste of “writing in lieu of me” when I started writing texts on my smartphone. The prompter at the bottom of the screen was queuing the next word or phrase. I liked the efficiency when it worked and not when it took on a life of its own by inserting incompatible words. I learned to proof my messages after a few incidents of stupid writing.
Soon my email messages and creative writing on Word were getting prompts. I confess to being disappointed when the prompts match what I thought was a “clever” turn of words.
Prompts and now learning there is a program to write essays such as columns is disheartening to my writing ego.
Apparently, teachers at high school and above are more than disheartened because Chat GPT has been discovered by students. I am far too old to know the lure of tricking the teacher through having a program write your assignment. Perhaps, it feels honest because of all the other activities performed through computers. Or perhaps it’s just fun to cheat. I am old enough to know it is the student learning experience that is cheated.
New programing fights back against plagiarism however generated. Edward Tian, a computer science student at Princeton, built GPTZero, a program to do exactly that by identifying computer-produced writing. An internet search reveals a number of agencies such as colleges and the makers of Chat GPT have done or are working on the same.
In this instance, the AI challenge was met; however, it raises for me at least serious questions about people in general losing the focus on the learning processes and critical thinking that teach us our creativity potential.
Handwriting versus computer debate
On a not unrelated topic, I have followed the debate around teaching cursive writing off and on since my stepson developed an elaborate workbook about 10 years ago on teaching letters and making letters with a tool like a pencil. As clever as it was, it did not go anywhere partly due to his marketing plan but mostly due to parents and others asking what is the point if kids will be using computers.
I have wondered for a while.
I kept an opinion piece “What’s lost as handwriting fades” from the June 8, 2014, Peninsula Daily News commentary page. The writer refers to studies related to three parts of the brain that are strongly activated when children draw a letter, compared to children typing or tracing a letter in which significantly weaker brain activation occurs.
Drawing the letter requires planning and doing not required by typing or tracing. Some translate the related brain activities required to thinking.
I know that when I takes notes by hand, I have a far better recall of all that was said surrounding that note. But then I also know when I write by hand or computer, I feel a connection between what I am thinking and putting on paper as if my fingers are channeling the words.
Still, I am not a good example because I was in my 50s before I began using a computer. I cannot know if the same relationship with words and phrases occurs with those who only know computers.
Do those who only know computers recognize their own thinking and creativity as I do, or do they credit the computer?
I hope they see their own abilities and experience the pleasure I have in writing, part of which is anticipating what I will write — the mystery of the more complex human brain complete with personality with access to a sense of humor.
After all, a computer would never start a column with “Egads!”
Bertha Cooper, an award-winning featured columnist with the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation and it the author of the award-winning “Women, We’re Only Old Once.” Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at email@example.com.