How long have I been staring at a blank screen, this accusing white box, struggling to compose the first sentence of a post I know will be difficult to write? About two minutes, actually, but that’s at least ten times longer than ChatGPT takes to compose a full page. And it’s those two minutes — and the several days I struggled with this post afterwards — that convince me that ChatGPT will not destroy writing. In fact, I think it may encourage more of us to write, and more still to consume the imperfect, raw, and resonant product of our efforts.
I’m a pretty fast writer, but I’m a deliberate and vicious editor — I’ll happily kill several paragraphs of my own text just minutes after I’ve composed them. I know that the best writing happens in the editing, and the most important part of composition is to simply get some decent clay on the wheel. ChatGPT seems to be really good at that clay part. But it’s in the second part — the editing — that the pot gets thrown*.
Everyone from educators to legislators seem to be asking how we can distinguish between writing done by AIs, and writing done by actual humans. But if the age of the centaur is truly upon us, perhaps we don’t have to. Authorship is already a complicated process of bricolage and outright theft. I don’t see why adding a tool like ChatGPT should be anything but welcomed.
Some argue that ChatGPT already is writing like humans — which implies it will replace writing, instead of merely complementing it. Indeed, ChatGPT can string sentences together in often extremely useful or humorous ways. And sure, it may likely replace structured text like sports summaries or earnings reports. But I don’t think tools like ChatGPT will ever be able to write like Sam Kriss, or Zeynep Tufecki, or Anil Dash.
When I write, I have no idea how the work is going to end, much less what ideas or points I’ll make as I pursue its composition. For a reader, the beauty in a piece of writing is its wholeness. It’s a complete thing — it starts, it blathers on for some period of time, it ends. But for a writer, an essay is a process, a living thing. You compose, you reflect, you edit, reject, reshape, and repeat. Once it’s finished, the piece quickly settles into an afterlife, a fossilized artifact of a…