If you write content just because you’ve heard that posting continually equals more reach and more reach equals more business, this post is not for you. If you don’t have a passion for sharing your ideas and you write merely to fill a quota, you don’t need to read further. If, however, you understand that your goal is not to go viral but to provide real value to your audience, read on.
If you opened your social media feed in the past two months, you couldn’t have escaped it. AI-generated texts are all over the place. Everyone is playing with ChatGPT, but some are already experimenting with taking it further: asking ChatGPT to find answers to queries, using it for learning, teaching, and… creating “original” content. And plenty of it.
For many, this is a dream coming true. If content is king and now you can generate content with as little as a simple prompt, you’ve nailed it. You can generate infinite posts and articles at basically zero cost and, no less important, zero effort. You can post daily or even hourly, flooding your audience with what appears to be original, convincing content. Add to that that you can play with the text’s style to address different audiences or needs, and it is easy to consider ChatGPT the holy grail of content creation.
Now, I admit it: I am biased. I help people create content and share their ideas effectively. If everyone uses ChatGPT (or whatever follows it) and nobody writes their own content, nobody will need my services. Unless whatever ChatGPT generates isn’t really that good. On the face of things (and based on the hype), people love what they get with ChatGPT. But my message is simple: Write more, and don’t be tempted to replace your content with the cheap alternative of AI-generated text. If you really care about the ideas you share with your audience, that is.
ChatGPT Knows Nothing About the World
ChatGPT is, without a doubt, impressive. For the most part, it “sounds” like a human conversation partner. Add to that its jaw-dropping ability to imitate different styles and “impersonate” famous people, and you get the coolest gadget around. But this is not a tech newsletter. We are here to discuss effective communication, and effective communication starts with understanding the world around us. At least part of it.
In a recent episode of the Ezra Klein show, Gary Marcus described ChatGPT as having no model of the world. Simply put, it doesn’t know what it writes about. The impressive texts it generates are based purely on predicting the following word in the sentence based on billions of parameters and data points. Impressive, but it has nothing to do with understanding what words really mean and what they represent in the real world.
To demonstrate that, I asked ChatGPT what the Sun and a tennis ball have in common. I got this very detailed response:
“ The sun is a massive, luminous ball of gas that is located at the center of the solar system and is the primary source of light and heat for the solar system. It is millions of miles away from Earth and is not a physical object that can be touched or held. A tennis ball, on the other hand, is a small, spherical object that is used in the sport of tennis. It is made of rubber and is covered with a layer of felt, and it is used in the game by being struck with a racket.”
This automatically generated text seems perfect. It is a 100% accurate description of both objects, and it sounds like something a knowledgeable person would say. But it is clueless as to what these two unrelated objects have in common:
“There are no inherent similarities between the sun and a tennis ball, as they belong to two very different categories of things.”
A young child could tell you in less than five seconds that both the Sun and a tennis ball are round. Both of them have the shape of a ball. Some kids would go further and say both are yellow. We just need to know two basic facts about these objects to make the connection. It is an act of simple reasoning — reasoning that ChatGPT cannot do.
But let’s put all that aside for a second. If you read the description ChatGPT has generated for the Sun (without being asked, by the way), you’d notice it uses the word “ball.” So what does something described as a ball have in common with a tennis ball? Well, apparently, nothing. Because even the word “ball” means nothing to the program. It is just an extremely good prediction of the word that should follow the word “luminous” in the context of the prompt I provided.
Ok, this is not a competition, and ChatGPT is an impressive software, even if it lacks the ability to make connections and deductions that humans make naturally and fluently. But generating ideas, finding effective ways to communicate them, and affecting people rely on our ability to reason, deduce, connect, fuse, and imagine. Words and sentences are the building blocks of communication, but they are the physical building blocks. Knowing all the right words and how to combine them is not enough. You have to forge ideas that are greater and deeper than the simple words that are used to express them. ChatGPT cannot do that.
Metaphors, analogies, abstractions, and stories bring your text to life. If ChatGPT cannot make a simple connection between two physical objects, it certainly cannot craft a story to make a point without being overly literal.
If you care about articulating an idea in any way beyond spelling it out, you have to write your own text. If you care about impacting your audience, the current (public) AI systems are useless.