AI was just the right tool coming along at just the right moment in time. Like the Spirit of St. Louis airplane for Charles Lindbergh. Our AI man was no Brann the Iconoclast, but he wanted to be. William Cowper Brann was a newsman back in the second half of the 1800s. He became a brash irritant to all of the powers that be in Waco, Texas – right up to the point where a man whose daughter was a Baylor student (Baylor was one of Brann’s biggest targets) shot Brann in the back. It’s not an unimportant detail that Brann fired back and killed his assailant. But they both got to live another day with bullets in them before they died. Brann was known as an articulate (if savage) writer, and he would have been unwilling to use AI to write his articles. But he wrote a lot and he pissed off everyone and anyone he wanted to.
Brann wouldn’t have used ChatGPT to write his articles, but a lot of people will.
As a writer myself, I am reading with interest the current verbal battles and arguments about ChatGPT and AI writing. I’ve made a few comments – primarily that AI is bad at writing, precisely like most writers. Bad writers do not know that it is bad, and they embrace AI because they do not know the difference. The point, though, is that bad authors are now having AI write full novels in just hours. The AI can design the cover, write the cover blurb, and even publish the book to Amazon in a short time. The novel mills are pumping books out by the millions each year, precisely as they were doing before using only the hard work of millions of bad writers. One guy can now do the work of dozens of bad writers.
But now the bad writer has his tool. The bad writer has always been with us. This is nothing new. Now, though, he can really pump out the words.
He is a man who famous for what he is not. He’d read Jack Kerouac and Catcher in the Rye in school, not because he was drawn to their themes, but because it seemed like something the guy he pretended to be would do. And he identified with Holden Caulfield, again not because he was a real rebel himself but because being something someone else wrote seemed like a good thing to him and pretending to be something he wasn’t seemed easier than having to think or be his own man. It helped that the generation he needed to support him was dumb and would think he was original, and they just wanted to watch the world burn anyway. Brann targeted the Baptists and the Pentacostals and the Unions, African Americans, and Baylor University. Our new AI Branns pump out grist novels and humor posts and recipes. They fill the Internet with bland nonsense and they feel good about it. Content is King.
Oh, the losers loved Catcher in the Rye. They loved Holden.
But our AI scribe missed the Caulfieldesque irony because Calfield was the true phony. This is why I love irony so much. So, when the opportunity to finally write something someone might read, rather than do the work and learn and improve his work, our AI Superstar looked up what a man who was counter-culture would do, and he memorized it so he could do that without thinking too much about it. What Would Holden Caulfield Do? was his internal mantra, but he never bothered to answer the question because to do so would require a depth he neither had nor aspired to.
Whether he has a blog, or is pumping out novels, or becomes a social media meme spew-bot, he has what is to him his fifteen minutes of fame. And all without any talent or hard work at all.
In the movie The Matrix, one of the characters says “You think that is steak you’re eating?” or something like that. The point is that it is fake. Fake steak in a computer program. But the thing was, it looked and tasted like good steak. Holden Caulfield won’t turn out good steak at all. Because he’s a phony. He’ll turn to AI and a pen-name.
Imagine what Brann the Iconoclast could have done with copy-paste from ChatGPT?
Michael Bunker is a local columnist for BrownwoodNews.com whose columns appear periodically on the website.