Note: I promise, nothing in this post is generated by ChatGPT.
Mental calculation and calculator
I grew up in an East Asian culture that values learning mental calculation. I remember how adults think of calculators, and what children were being told to practice at Kumon.
I can’t do mental calculations, and I still admire those who do. They, however, don’t seem to always end up getting STEM degrees or doing better in personal finance.
I reach for a calculator on my phone, watch, and Alfred every day.
Writing and input methods
I also grew up in a place that appreciates penmanship.
Yet, I can’t seem to write Chinese characters because of my inability to remember the strokes of the characters. Since leaving school, I have been almost exclusively relying on typing characters on screens. Thankfully, East Asian input methods are ubiquitous on all devices — handwriting recognition, in fact, came later.
Writing and ChatGPT
Essay writing is also an appreciated skill. It is arguably global, not limited to East Asia.
Users of the language model can generate essays with the right prompts, and supplement them with their edits.
There are no undisputed results with a given calculation or character. 16 times 4 is always 64. The same goes for typing Chinese characters — the outputs are the same CJK code points in Unicode. One of course one has to understand the math enough to put in the right calculation, or with enough reading skills to pick the right character among the homophones.
It is also a learned skill to give ChatGPT the right prompt and supplement the output with the right edits. We, humans, are only a few months into understanding what it feels like to learn a such skill. But even with users who excelled at that skill, the output isn’t indisputable. The vast space of possible human utterance and expression means that there will be bad and effortless ChatGPT-generated essays, and there will be essays made better because of ChatGPT.
What would that lead us, you ask?
ChatGPT and half-lies
As of today, the output of a ChatGPT-assisted essay still relies on heavily on a human to fact-check. The language model does not employ the same editorial standards as Wikipedia, let alone academic papers. It does not know if the materials it was trained on were trustworthy either.
Like CoPilot, the copyright of the generated content is a subject of scrutiny too. Just last week, I had to reject a pull request at work, because it contains a function generated by ChatGPT without copyright notation.
What if it is by design, not a problem?
ChatGPT and half-truth
We may be witnessing the end of the human-driven internet, where the majority of the texts are written by humans.
We have already seen the shift where almost all contents are now curated by algorithm, with many machine learning models. There are tons of reflections on the effects of that (among the almost-destruction of democracies) not worth repeating.
User-generated content may soon be drowned by machine-generated content. Perspectives will soon be replaced by entities with the biggest wallets. Intelligence and misinformation campaigns will be even effortless.
On the other hand, the next great fantasy literature may be generated than written. Its fictional universe can be as glamorous as that of Asimov.
It is a paradigm shift. Just like how calculators and input methods relieve the mental burden of many, ChatGPT is going to change how humans construct essays, and even the thoughts themselves.
I am looking forward to seeing what kind of creativity ChatGPT will unleash on humanity, while carefully observing the harm it may cause.
I will miss the days when life was simpler, and you don’t have to worry about the quality of the texts you encounter on the web, at least this much.
I hope future generations will continue to be able to enjoy the ability to reflect on their thoughts through their writings, like what I am doing with my blog right now.
This post is a reprise of what Evan Puschak said in his The Nerdwriter video, also a toot from ronnywang, together with my take on the subject. Any mistakes are mine and mine alone.