Of all the posts I ignore on social media—pursed-lip selfies, work-out tips, celebrities’ thoughts on politics, pharma ads—the ones I ignore most thoroughly these days, almost with a vengeance, are the results of prompts to AI chatbots. The tell-tale fonts and formats of these posts allow me to spot them instantly, and I bypass them as swiftly and reflexively as I do weight-loss pamphlets in doctors’ waiting rooms or dry hairy tangles of bean sprouts in salad bars. It’s an aversion that came on rather recently, like the posts themselves, and perhaps I should examine it, if briefly.
Part of what bugs me about these documents, whether they’re generated in the form of college essays, poems, newspaper articles, or screenplays, is the implication that they’re ingenious, and that the people who ordered them are ingenious by association. But I am underwhelmed by the performances. When you consider that the human race has moved the ball of language down the field for millennia upon millennia using nothing but its throats and tongues and sticks with ink and graphite on their tips, the idea that advanced computer networks are able to kick the ball into the net repeatedly and with little effort, in all kinds of showy ways, isn’t as impressive as it’s made out to be.
Then there’s the mediocre writing itself. If you’ve ever wondered what the speech of the world’s most articulate parakeet might sound like—the world’s most articulate robot parakeet, with a chip implanted behind its beak and a web-connection in—wonder no more. Though AI strikes few false notes in its feats of mimicry, that’s precisely why it offends my ear, because false notes are expressive in their own ways, as any parent of a toddler knows. In the garden one day, my little son stumbled backwards, avoiding a giant insect. “It’s a jungle bee!” he cried. The AI could be programmed to make such charming mistakes, of course, but it would be playing catch-up with tiny tots. (The prospect of synthetic, machine-made baby talk is the very stuff of nightmares.)