Life is full of challenges; can AI writing like ChatGPT help me with any of them?
AI-generated text has been around for a while and there’s no stopping it. Out of curiosity, I’ve done some experimenting with AI – in particular GPT-3 (third generation Generative Pre-trained Transformer), a large language model developed by OpenAI. It’s trained on a vast amount of data from the internet and can then generate text in response to an input, such as asking a question.
And it just got a whole lot smarter. ChatGPT has a user-friendly interface and uses GPT-3.5, meaning its mistakes are much less obvious than with GPT-3. Spurred on by a community I’m part of (RISE by Mark Schaefer), I wondered to what extent the limitations of GPT-3 still applied, and whether there were practical and ethical ways ChatGPT could help me work faster and smarter.
ChatGPT comes with the following intro screen:
- Reducing harmful bias in fiction
- Malnourished kids in my village
- Sample fictional text to demonstrate editing
Challenge 1: Reducing harmful bias in fiction
Last week I had a tough task to do, but it was important and I was determined to do it well. I was judging a sample chapter in a fiction competition and providing feedback.
The problem was, there were harmful racial stereotypes at the center of the plot. It’s hard to word feedback like that when you don’t know the author or their intentions (this wasn’t one of my direct clients), and I knew the potential for my feedback to go down badly with the author was high. I had to word it carefully.
I’m sometimes tempted to put off tasks that I know will be emotionally demanding. What if I’d asked AI for help to get me started sooner? I didn’t, but would it have said anything useful? Here’s what I asked ChatGPT.
Joanne: How do I write supportive and encouraging feedback to an author who has used a racist premise in their novel. Explain why it’s a problem without making them defensive.
ChatGPT: If you are providing feedback to an author who has used a racist premise in their novel, it is important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Start by expressing your appreciation for the author’s work and the effort they put into writing their novel. Then, explain why the racist premise is a problem, using specific examples from the novel to illustrate your point. Avoid using accusatory language or placing blame on the author, and instead focus on the impact of the racist premise on the characters and the story.
It can also be helpful to provide suggestions for how the author could address the issue and make their novel more inclusive and fair. For example, you could suggest that the author consider adding more diverse characters, or incorporating more nuanced and realistic portrayals of the characters who are affected by the racist premise. Additionally, you could offer to provide further resources or advice on how to avoid bias and promote inclusivity in their writing. 🤖
I thought that wasn’t too bad! Empathy and understanding are key, and I did give positive feedback about aspects of their writing that worked really well. It reminds me that I do have the skills to tackle this challenge. Would I go a step further and ask AI to write the feedback for me? No, that wouldn’t be fair to the author, and it would have been generic, rather than specific to their text like the feedback I wrote last week.
I’ve experienced the limitations of GPT language models and the inherent bias in AI due to training data, so I asked about this in relation to fiction next. Would it be able to produce something that could help authors avoid harmful bias in their writing in the first place?
Joanne: What are common examples of bias in fiction writing?
ChatGPT: In fiction writing, bias can refer to a number of different things. For example, it can refer to the inclusion of stereotypes or one-dimensional characters that reinforce harmful beliefs about certain groups of people. It can also refer to a narrative that is slanted in favor of one particular point of view, or that presents a distorted or incomplete picture of events. Additionally, bias in fiction can manifest in the ways that different characters are portrayed, with some characters receiving more positive or sympathetic treatment than others. 🤖
Joanne: How can I avoid bias in my fiction writing?
ChatGPT: One way to avoid bias in your fiction writing is to be aware of your own biases and make a conscious effort to challenge them. This can involve doing research and seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences, both in your reading and in your everyday life. It can also involve actively seeking out and incorporating feedback from people with different backgrounds and experiences than your own.
Another way to avoid bias in your writing is to be mindful of the language and descriptions you use. Avoid using stereotypes and generalizations, and strive to create well-rounded, complex characters that reflect the diversity of the world around us.
Additionally, consider the implications of your plot and storyline. Be aware of how your story may reinforce or challenge societal norms and beliefs, and consider if there are alternative perspectives or experiences that could be included.
Overall, the key to avoiding bias in your writing is to be open-minded, self-aware, and willing to engage with diverse perspectives. By actively working to challenge your own biases and incorporate diverse voices and experiences, you can create stories that are more inclusive and reflective of the world we live in. 🤖
Well, it’s a bit generic but it’s not a bad starting point, and you could ask further questions to develop points you wanted to explore. Thinking about this makes me want to add Chrystal Shelley’s Conscious Language Toolkit to my wishlist because I know its informed by her lived experience as a human. (There are separate versions of the Conscious Language Toolkit for writers and editors on Chrystal’s website – not an affiliate link.)
Challenge 2: Solving world hunger
Another thing that’s been emotionally demanding for me recently is the food crisis in Sri Lanka. It affects our village, food stability is terrible, and I feel helpless about what I can do for others. What is wrong with the world that children are hungry? So I asked ChatGPT about that too.
Joanne: Brainstorm different ways I can help with the problem of malnourished children in my village in Southeast Asia.
ChatGPT: There are many different ways you can help with the problem of malnourished children in your village in Southeast Asia. Some potential ideas include:
- Raising awareness about the issue of malnutrition in your village, and sharing information about its causes and effects with others.
- Volunteering with organizations that work to provide nutritious meals and other support to malnourished children in your area.
- Donating funds or other resources to support organizations that are working to combat malnutrition in your village.
- Starting a fundraising campaign to raise money for malnutrition prevention and treatment programs in your village.
- Working with local farmers to help them grow and sell nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
- Partnering with local schools or community centers to provide nutrition education and promote healthy eating habits among children and families in your village.
- Supporting efforts to improve access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities in your village, which can help prevent malnutrition and other health problems.
By taking action to address the issue of malnutrition in your village, you can help ensure that children have the nourishment they need to grow and thrive. 🤖
Joanne: How can I start a social media campaign to help malnourished children in my village?
ChatGPT: To start a social media campaign to help malnourished children in your village, you could follow these steps:
Identify the goal of your campaign and create a message that clearly conveys this goal to your audience. This could be something like “Help us raise funds to provide nutritious meals to malnourished children in our village.”
Choose a social media platform (or multiple platforms) that are popular with your target audience. This could be platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Create social media accounts for your campaign, if you don’t already have them, and start posting about your campaign. Be sure to include your campaign message, photos or videos of the children you are helping, and information about how people can donate or get involved.
Engage with your audience by responding to comments, thanking donors, and sharing updates about the impact of your campaign. You could also consider using hashtags to make it easier for people to find your posts and share them with others.
Promote your campaign by sharing it with your personal network and reaching out to local organizations or influencers who might be interested in supporting your cause. You could also consider running paid advertisements to reach a wider audience.
Monitor the success of your campaign and adjust your strategy as needed. Keep track of how many donations you receive, how much money you raise, and the impact that your campaign has on the children in your village.
By following these steps, you can create a successful social media campaign to help malnourished children in your village. It’s important to remember to be persistent, engaging, and transparent in order to build trust and support for your campaign. 🤖
Well, I feel slightly less powerless already. I have no real idea whether this is good social media advice or not, but let’s assume it sounds OK. What should I spend the money on?
Joanne: What are the best foods to give malnourished children in Sri Lanka?
ChatGPT: Malnutrition can have many causes, and the best foods to give to malnourished children will depend on their specific nutritional needs. In general, however, malnourished children may benefit from foods that are high in calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals. These could include foods like:
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and other sources of protein
Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
Fruits and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins and minerals
Whole grains, such as oats, barley, and quinoa
Fortified foods, like fortified bread or cereal, which have added nutrients
It’s also important to provide children with clean, safe drinking water to help prevent dehydration. In some cases, malnourished children may also benefit from taking nutritional supplements, such as vitamin and mineral tablets or fortified foods like peanut butter or vegetable oil. 🤖
This reads as biased to me and sounds like a Westernized list. Some of these foods are unavailable here, even under normal circumstances. Now the good thing was, I could provide feedback on this, to help with training the AI in the future. I tried to get something more suitable for our context. Here’s how it did.
Joanne: What are great sources of protein for children that are part of a Southeast Asian diet?
ChatGTP: Protein is an important nutrient for children, as it helps their bodies grow and develop. In Southeast Asia, there are many sources of protein that are commonly included in the diet. These include:
Fish and seafood, such as shrimp, squid, and fish
Meat, such as chicken, pork, and beef
Nuts and seeds, such as peanuts, almonds, and sesame seeds
Legumes, such as lentils, peas, and beans
Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
In addition to these protein-rich foods, many Southeast Asian diets also include plant-based proteins like tofu and tempeh. These foods can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as grilled, fried, or in soups and stews. It’s important to offer children a variety of protein-rich foods to help ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need. 🤖
Much better. I’ve been planting beans in the garden this morning (no snakes today, but ask me about the leeches!). And I thought of a way I could use AI writing to save me time.
Challenge 3: Writing example fiction to demonstrate editing
Writing fictitious scenes to demonstrate an editing point is time consuming. I write them myself because I don’t use example client work for this, even with consent from the author. I don’t want to point out people’s “mistakes” online for others to see. Could ChatGPT write some scenes for me?
Joanne: Write a fictional scene about meeting a witch in a forest.
ChatGPT: As I stepped into the forest, the sunlight filtering through the trees was suddenly blotted out by a thick fog that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. I shivered, feeling a strange sense of foreboding.
I heard a rustling in the bushes ahead of me, and a figure emerged from the mist. It was an old woman, dressed in tattered robes of black and green. Her face was wrinkled and wizened, with a hooked nose and sharp, piercing eyes.
“Who are you?” I asked, my voice trembling. “What do you want?”
The old woman cackled, her voice raspy and harsh. “I am a witch, child,” she said. “And I have come to grant you a gift.”
I stared at her in disbelief. “A gift? What kind of gift?”
The witch chuckled. “The gift of magic, child. The power to bend the world to your will. But be warned – with great power comes great danger. Are you willing to accept the risk?”
I hesitated, unsure of what to do. The thought of wielding magic was tempting, but the old woman’s words filled me with fear.
“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “I’m not sure I want to be a witch.”
The old woman’s eyes narrowed. “Then you are not worthy of my gift,” she said. “Farewell, child. May your life be dull and uneventful.”
With that, she turned and disappeared into the fog, leaving me alone in the forest once again. I stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do, before turning and running back the way I had come. 🤖
That’s something I could analyze and give example feedback on. Looks like AI and humans make different types of writing mistakes though! AI seems to be pretty good at laying out dialogue and including sensory information in scenes, and it doesn’t make typos in the same way that we do. Humans on the other hand have a better grasp of stakes, motivation, and continuity, usually.
I can imagine using AI-generated paragraphs as example fictitious text to demonstrate editing on my website, but I might need to edit in specific mistakes or issues. It would probably be quicker than writing from scratch though, and it would get me over the initial reluctance of getting started. I like that I can provide feedback on the output in ChatGPT too.
To what extent do the limitations of GPT-3 still apply? Rebecca Heilweil described ChatGPT as a confident bullshitter (Vox article), which I thought was an excellent way of putting its tendency to hallucinate. When it makes mistakes, they’re harder to pick up because they sound reasonable enough to be right. For example, ChatGPT told me that Perseus used his shield to hide his face from Medusa to keep his identity a secret. It sounds plausible but it’s completely wrong. (He was using the reflection to avoid looking at her and getting turned to stone.) The thing is, some humans are confident bullshitters too, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.
AI writing is already here. There’s no putting it back in the box, but we can explore its limitations, provide it with feedback, and think of ethical uses. I found it helpful to poke my own thinking in different directions.
What do you think? Do you use AI in your writing?
And something I want to know more about is who are all the “human labelers” tagging the training data …