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ChatGPT: The Perfect Gadget for a Culture in Decline?

ChatGPT is an impersonal machine and can't generate meaning

Dr. Jeffrey Bilbro, professor of English at Grove City College and an editor at The Front Porch Republic, wrote an article for Plough on what he regards as the primary weakness of Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. Bilbro comes to the issue from a literary background, which means he values the human element in language as a mode of communication. Literature is a “conversation,” requiring sentient minds. He sees ChatGPT as a soulless mechanism that will atrophy our ability to write and diminish our appreciation for good writing. Bilbro writes,

LLMs are a technology suited to a decadent culture, one that chases easy profits rather than tackles the real challenges we face. It’s easier to make money rearranging words according to various probabilities than it is to make a living improving the health of our topsoil, communities, and souls. When we sit in front of a computer typing prompts into ChatGPT and watching it effortlessly spit out sentence after sentence, we may experience the rush of power. This thing can do whatever I ask it to do! What is less apparent is the seductive power such tools exercise over us. Paul Kingsnorth dramatizes this lure in his dystopian novel Alexandria, about a remnant community of humans holding out against a massive AI. One of the agents for this AI entices these remaining persons to upload their consciousness onto the AI and escape the difficulties of existence: “As Alexandria became more accessible, everyone wanted in. If your life on Earth is going to be a hardscrabble in dying soil, or a struggle to survive in a lawless megacity slum, why continue it any longer than necessary?” Tasks such as writing well, thinking well, and living well are hard, particularly for fallen and fallible creatures. But we gain the competence to meet these challenges responsibly only by careful, effortful practice. No technological shortcut, no forbidden fruit, will alter this creatural reality.

-Jeffrey Bilbro, What Problem Does ChatGPT Solve? by Jeffrey Bilbro (plough.com)

Bilbro notes that ChatGPT takes the struggle out of a process that formerly demanded mental effort and frustration. What are we giving up, though, when we forego the struggle? We might miss out on actual meaning-making, as well as the ability to do the hard work of thinking, synthesizing, and coming to our own conclusions.

ChatGPT’s conversational model gives it the illusion of conversationality, but it’s still an algorithm. It’s not sentient or creative.

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is a prolific fiction writer and has written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is a contributing writer and editor for Mind Matters.

ChatGPT: The Perfect Gadget for a Culture in Decline?