Life as I know it: This will always be me, not AI – Traverse City Record Eagle

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Every other Sunday morning I thumb through the jottings that I’ve made in the “Notes” app on my phone in search of material to spark an idea for my Record Eagle column. I love “Notes” because it’s like constantly having a piece of paper in your pocket to scribble thoughts on. The writing muse is fleeting and the frustration of having an interesting observation, thought or idea without anything to save it is real. “Notes” saves me time and time again.

As much as I enjoy that challenge of column composition, I have a confession to make; the notion of cheating on it made its way into the process recently. Allow me to expand on what I mean by “notion of cheating” by saying ChatGPT.

ChatGPT is a modern online device for assistance with daily tasks including writing essays, articles and other types of content. I’d heard about it, mostly in the context of students using it to cheat on homework assignments but real world applications were edging into the ChatGPT conversation. For instance, my daughter recently used the app to help her plan a weekend trip out of town with a friend. The app planned practically everything including travel, lodging, dining and entertainment

Before I tell you what I did next, allow me to assure you that the content that appears under my name and face will always be, to the best of my abilities, composed, concocted and conveyed by me.

Artificial intelligence is a real thing and those that publish and those that read must have confidence that the words and phrases they’re reading here are mine. The future of technology as it pertains to communication can be a scary place as institutions greater than me can attest.

So, what I did was download the app and request that ChatGPT create a 600-word column about the solar eclipse using the existing content of columnist Rob Ford. Having published columns for various publications since 2000, I assumed there would be ample information from which to work.

Having asked that, I then had to convince the app that I was not Rob Ford, the deceased former mayor from Toronto, Canada. In a matter of seconds I was provided a neatly crafted article about the solar eclipse using the words, stances and styles of that guy. I read it and it sounded legitimate, aside from the fact that it was written by the wrong Rob Ford.

A revised request then was sent asking for a column written in the style of Traverse City Record-Eagle columnist Rob Ford and again, my Canadian doppelgänger came in first. “Here is what Rob Ford, former Toronto mayor, would say to people from Michigan …” was ChatGPT’s response.

Not what I wanted.

Assuming my Record-Eagle content might be tucked behind some sort of internet-based hindrance, I added the other paper that I write columns for, the Elk Rapids News. Adding that much to the request worked and I was provided with a piece on the solar eclipse that, if I closed my eyes and didn’t judge too critically, sounded like it could have been written by me. It wasn’t as quirky as I can be and it didn’t overuse semicolons, ellipses or quotation marks like I often do, but it really managed to capture my “voice” enough to creep me out a little bit.

As much as I’d like to ignore the topic, we owe it to one another to be honest. And as I said before, if it’s under my name, you can believe it’s written by the Rob Ford you know.

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