The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
When I saw this poem by @hekateswhisper, the intense dislike and perhaps even borderline disgust I have for ChatGPT hit me like a truck.
As a humanities student and an avid writer, language and writing skills are talents I take pride in, and have taken time to amend and hone. Yet, in an instant, this valuable skill almost seems reduced to nought with AI technology. For many of us humanities-trained individuals, we might even feel like ChatGPT is taking away our jobs.
Don’t get me wrong, I am in awe of how technology has evolved over the years. Language has been the one thing that AI has found difficult to handle: the complexity of communication is hard to reduce down into numbers and codes. Communication has so many components: transmission, comprehension, production, cultural norms and more. Language is said to be creative, meaning that no one in the world ever creates the same sentence twice. Language requires absolute novelty and innovation in its content, structure and meaning, which is why it is difficult for AI to understand and learn.
Furthermore, language is arbitrary in some ways. For example, there’s no real reason why a word means what it is. In linguistics, we call the word the ‘reference’, and the thing we are referring to, the ‘referent’. The relationship between the reference and the referent is arbitrary, a culmination of centuries of creativity and change. That’s another reason why AI has found it difficult to grapple with language: what defines a ‘cat’ as a ‘cat’ for example? How do we define the relationship between word and meaning and translate that into codes? Apparently, this mystery has been cracked with the creation of ChatGPT.
ChatGPT seems to have conquered it all: it even passed a medical licensing test. It is as if it has finally reined language as its own. I have always thought of language as something unique — no other species on earth has language to our level of complexity. Language is more than stringing together a few words into a sentence. It can have hidden meanings that require emotional and contextual knowledge to read between the lines. It can convey a tone that can only really be comprehended by the imagination of a human mind. The cognitive functions and resources needed for language production is something uniquely human. The creation of ChatGPT feels like something has been robbed from me, hijacked even.
As mentioned before, I am a humanities-trained person. Through literature, I have connected deeply with language, especially in its creative forms of writing, prose, poetry. Beyond just communication, language has brought us life, soul and beauty. Sometimes, I feel emotions that seem indescribable, and when I see it conveyed perfectly into a poem by a complete stranger, there is a certain connection felt, a connection that makes me feel human. Knowing that someone in the world feels exactly the same way I do, and can convey it to me through means that I, too, can fully comprehend, makes me less alone. Language is what makes humanity, and no amount of technology should take that away from us.
I think ChatGPT for me, was seeing a friction and conflict between the humanities and the sciences again. The sciences seek to progress and advance us, but the humanities teaches us to enjoy that progress and advancement, and to slow down and appreciate life a little more. Technological revolutions have only always catapulted us into disaster. Our current one, which we are hurtling towards, is an environmental catastrophe. Perhaps I am overthinking it, but ChatGPT to me was almost like the start of war between these two worlds. A challenge even, from the sciences — that technology can take away what is the foundation of the humanities, and the unique identity of what means to be human.
For now, at least, I can breathe easy that ChatGPT is still a little behind in creating the perfect article, and writing the most beautiful sentences. But I do worry for the day that it can.