Once upon a time, ChatGPT wrote a novel – BC Catholic
Educator Tom Whitby, founder of the popular Twitter #Edchat hashtag, sent out the following Tweet: “Microsoft is investing (an additional) $10 B in Open AI, the ChatGPT creator. This is not going to fade away. Educators need to understand what it is and how to integrate it responsibly into learning. This is the new challenge.”
My reply to Whitby: “Indeed. I’m demonstrating ChatGPT to anyone and everyone who will look and listen. This is a watershed moment for many domains, education being one.”
In the course of one of my recent tweets on ChatGPT and the impact of artificial intelligence tools I ran across Damian Santana, a thirty-something elevator mechanic in Daytona Beach. He saw a mention of the column I recently published (see below) in which ChatGPT did most of the writing.
Over the course of a few tweet exchange and several subsequent emails, I learned that Santana had seen, and immediately seized upon, the potential unleashed by a tool such as ChatGPT. In his own words from him: “On December 22nd, while at work, I saw what I thought was a clickbait article named something like“ This is a code red for Google ”that appeared in one of my news feeds. I took the bait, clicked on it, and was impressed by what I read. When I got home I went to Open AI’s website and gained access to ChatGPT. I was immediately blown away.”
Blown away indeed. It was apparent from the first words he wrote to me that Santana was enthusiastic about ChatGPT and similar tools in a way that opened up a new avenue for him, as these will surely do for students.
Not able to keep his enthusiasm to himself, Santana called up friends and family to describe what he was seeing and experiencing, but meeting little interest in return. On Dec. 30, he writes, he was reading a Time magazine article. It was about a children’s book written mostly by artificial intelligence. Then and there he decided to try using ChatGPT to write a novel, thinking it had likely already been done.
Finding nothing of substance in a search, he wondered what ChatGPT could do if he was as vague as possible with prompts and not giving it much direction.
“What kind of story would you want to tell? As I worked the rest of my day I thought there has to be someone else with the same idea. I’ve never had an idea that a million people haven’t already done. So in my mind this was a race to be first. I didn’t know if I had minutes or months until someone else did this. I got home from work at 5 pm and went straight to work. I worked on it till about midnight, went to sleep, then went right back at it around 6 am”
Here’s some of what he sent me as a description of how he went about “writing” his novel with ChatGPT.
“My first prompt to the chatbot was ‘Write a 1,500 word summary of a sci-fi novel written in the writing style of the best sci-fi writers of the 21st century. Create a plot twist.’
“My initial approach was to have it list out the chapters, then write a page by page outline for each chapter, then have it write each page from the outline. I got about a third of the way through the novel using this technique but I wasn’t happy with the result. There was a lot of repetition and the story line stopped making sense.
“So I started over, without the structure of outlines, and let it expand on the initial summary. Every time it mentioned something interesting I would prompt it to expand on that. One of the challenges that I faced pulling a novel out of ChatGPT is that every response is structured like an essay. These have an intro, a body, and a conclusion. I had to remove the beginning and end of most responses to be able to weave them into a cohesive novel. One of the awesome things about ChatGPT when used like this is that it remembers everything within a conversation. I completed this entire novel in one conversation and it remembered all of the characters’ plot arcs and descriptions.
“This allowed my prompts to become shorter and shorter as it remembered all of my previous prompts and started to know what I was looking for. By the end of this process it was almost reading my mind and really hitting its stride.”
He finished on New Year’s Day at 7 am and left to do some work.
“When I got back around noon I did a little research for possible plagiarism, or to at least see if I could find where ChatGPT got its inspiration from. I found a book with the same name (I was thinking of) from its initial summary called The Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor. I read the synopsis and the subject matter is completely different. It’s a fictional story about space travel but I didn’t like that the name was the same so I shortened the title of my novel to just The Singularity.”
Working through Dec. 31 Santana was on call for his job and away from the rapidly expanding novel. “Besides that, I worked continuously through the night into New Year’s Day. I had pulled 120,000 words out of the chatbot but I only used 35,500 words for the novel. I think that the ratio of total words to words used does not reflect poorly on ChatGPT. I think that’s more indicative of my learning curve with my prompts and an overall strategy change midway.”
Subsequently. Santana ran across Ray Kurzweil’s non-fiction work The Singularity is Near. He thinks ChatGPT drew on ideas from Kurzweil’s work by him, in which the author sees the pace of technological change outpacing the ability for humans to keep up.
Santana finished his novel on New Year’s Day. After designing some cover artwork he completed his work by publishing an e-version of The Singularity through Amazon later that day. At the time he believed his work by him was the first novel published through the use of artificial intelligence. Later he discovered through Reddit that an earlier novel was published on New Year’s Eve.
Whether first or second, the important point is that someone was so enthusiastic about this software that it led them to try something otherwise out of reach. This is illustrative of why ChatGPT, and certainly other AI applications to follow, should be embraced in education rather than sidelined through filtering and blocking technologies.
ChatGPT is making inroads in many areas already. Need to develop a business plan? Putting your house up for sale and need a descriptive listing? Have to go to a strata council meeting and want all the paperwork summarized and reduced to key points? These are the sorts of things already being done with ChatGPT.
Today’s students will be using this sort of tool regularly. We must teach about ChatGPT’s potential uses (many of which remain to be unearthed) as well as about its limitations (don’t trust it for mathematics/physics, for now).
We must also be sure to cover ethical implications that arise from using artificial intelligence tools.
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