Coffee and keyboards do not mix. This is what I learned last week, while scurrying to post a blog before Sunday Mass.
After first wiping up the worst of the spill, I then jumped through a number of hoops over the next several days trying to rectify the damage I’d done. And those efforts bore fruit, sorta. The Caffeinated Keyboard (CK) started working again as an input device. But it’s best if you’re not too particular about the details of the input.
Here, for example, is what appeared on screen when I used the blasted thing to type the words of the title for THIS blog post:
Td3a1yas233 n3r#3 #A!#ut W#rtw3
For some reason, the cap-“T” key works OK…but then CK seems to develop a mind of its own, inserting letters I never intended to insert, and adding random characters without requiring any energy at all from my fingertips.
In a sense, it’s like I’ve unleashed a monster without fully appreciating its ability to wreak havoc. But not to worry, Faithful Reader: I’ve already sent dear old CK to the Retirement Heap, where perhaps its component materials can be reclaimed and its rechargeable batteries, safely recycled.
By odd coincidence, all this occurred during the same week I learned about the launch of ChatGPT and its use in various Artifical Intelligence applications such as Microsoft’s new Bing search engine and OpenAI Playground. These apps, it’s claimed, can write decent content for you based on a few questions or bullet points you provide. One Jesuit priest, for example, asked a robot to “write a 5 to 7-minute homily for a Catholic Ash Wednesday Mass about joy.” Less than a minute later, here’s some of what the machine delivered:
“As we enter this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, it can be easy to focus on the somberness that often accompanies the solemnity of Lent. But as Christians preparing for the joyous celebration of Easter Sunday, I invite you all to look at this time with a spirit of joy. Lent is a time to focus not just on what is being given up, but also what is being gained: a closer relationship with God through prayer, an increased awareness of our needs as individuals and as members of the Church community, and a greater appreciation for all that we have been blessed with by Him. Fasting and repentance can help to strip away spiritual clutter, making Lent a time that releases us to truly appreciate the gifts of our lives.”
The machine’s prowess sent a chill down my spine, I have to say. While I’ve never been asked to ghost-write a homily, I have written TONS of stuff for other people to claim as their own. It’s how I made my living through the years – turning various corporate clients’ Big Ideas (or scattered thoughts) into speeches, white papers, articles, newsletters and the like. I was – and am – pretty good at it. Better, I’d like to think, than what the best robot could churn out today. But I also know I couldn’t begin to match OpenAI’s speed.
Frankly, it was tough not to come away feeling very much like a buggy-whip following my unexpected encounter with ChatGPT.
“Auto-Write” is now a thing, I see. Which means “freelance writer” might soon become a thing-of-the-past.
That said, is there a better time than Lent…to be given the opportunity to ponder one’s imminent professional obsolescence? Twice this week, we’ll pray aloud the words of Psalm 51 at Mass:
A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
I savor this verse for providing a reminder that I am a beloved child of God (as are we all). It also suggests that if there’s anything good, anything creative in me, its ultimate source is God. And in truth, I only have to look in order to detect God’s fingerprints all over the skillset that has sustained me and my family for the past 40+ years. Why, then, should I fear what the next 20 years might bring?
Sure, ChatGPT may offer a useful way of turning certain stones into bread. But just as surely, we should remember to cherish God’s promise – that we do not live on bread alone. Auto-Write…or the Author of the Cosmos: Only one of them, I suspect, has the power to answer a prayer such as this one from Psalm 51 – and to continue remaking our world in the process:
Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.
Well said, written, lived.
Psalm is one if my favorites.