The Artifice of AI: Why Machine-Generated Text Seems So Fake

The Artifice of AI: Why Machine-Generated Text Seems So Fake

IN A 1992 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation , the opening scene features the intelligent android Data reciting one of his own compositions at a poetry recital. The first few lines give us a taste of how the writers imagined a machine-authored poem: Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature, An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature; Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses. Data's human friend, Geordi La Forge, reports that the android's poems are “clever” but lack the emotion needed for good poetry. Data's poem fails, as the show has it, because it is too logical and literal; its language reflects the cold precision that makes Data something other than human. Thirty years later, machines are emotive poetry. Late last year, to widespread publicity, the private company OpenAI released a conversation bot trained to obey user commands: “Write me a rhymed poem a cat,” for example. The system works by predicting what word will come next based on patterns in a massive collection of text gathered mostly from the internet. Unlike Star Trek 's android, who speaks in scientific terminology and never uses contractions, ChatGPT can readily adopt the diction of a range of dialects and genres, from Shakespearean to slang. It produces startlingly accurate imitations of human writing. As this comparison shows, the issues raised by artificial intelligence are not quite the ones science fiction anticipated. Although it is linguistically fluent, ChatGPT is an unreliable source, often failing to distinguish truth from falsehood or recognize contradiction. As a result, researchers have worried that text generators will flood the internet with misinformation. Teachers have also braced themselves for an influx of machine-generated papers, which students can conjure up with little effort or cost. With each advance, it is indeed becoming harder to tell machine-generated text from the real thing. But how should we judge which types of writing are real? Are the words of a poem not the same whether they come from a human or machine? We can better understand the stakes of this judgment by […]

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