There’s a scene in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in which T.S. Eliot creates a moving image of us following a feline through an early 20th Century neighborhood as it searches for a place to spend the night. Eliot’s words are a tapestry that covers us in a coal-fired haze and wraps us in a metaphor as warm and cozy as nap time.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.i
This was written by a real person. A person who lived, breathed, and experienced life and all the pain and beauty that goes with it.
Bear with me; I have a point.
We recently had a call from a potential client who wanted to know if we could write a blog about a particular manufacturing process. Sure, we said. But the scary part about this is that the technical writing firm they originally retained to do this work delivered a paper so out of touch with reality they were forced to admit they used an AI platform to generate the content. Who are these people who claim they can write about what they do not know?
One truth associated with technical writing is this — there is no place to hide. Unlike T.S. Eliot’s cat, we can’t curl about the house and fall asleep once the content is ostensibly completed. In our business, we have to know what we’re talking about. We must also understand that this king known as content is a vehicle used to deliver our message from people to people. We use words, images, metaphors, whatever it takes, to explain things in a way that makes them relatable to our intended audience. Our writing is not some digital exercise that replicates from one brain to another, much like we would transfer a file. It doesn’t work that way, and AI is not the answer to cheap content down the road. Unless, of course, the content is cheap to begin with.
So, as we explore the exponential growth of boilerplate content and the role of AI in producing it, the space between our ears, the real place where human thought and understanding are exchanged, will remain a sacred place where robots can roam, but they cannot reproduce.
But wait, the ChatGPT investors will shout. You don’t understand it! Let us explain it.
“ChatGPT works by using algorithms to analyze and generate text based on the prompt from the user. When a user inputs a prompt or question, ChatGPT uses its training data to generate a response that is similar to what a human might say in that context.”ii
Huh? That sounds like an echo chamber in the making or at least a house of mirrors.
So today, I now cast myself as a fundamentalist who believes I can explain anything I do not understand — once I understand it – and, once I do, I can help you sell it, which is the point of marketing in the first place.
As far as ChatGPT, until some algorithm can take me by the hand and walk me “through certain half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats of restless nights in one night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells,iii” I’ll cast my fortunes with the thinkers and writers who take their inspiration not from algorithms and databases, but from the human condition that continues to permeate the technology that drives our research and development. Let’s leave ChatGPT to the lawyers.
i T. S. Eliot – 1888-1965. Published in 1915, this poem is in the public domain.
ii How To Geek