KJ Hannah Greenberg

Artificial Writing

Now, I’m sure I’m aging. In the last month or two, submission instructions for both individual pieces of writing and for entire books have integrated warnings against sending in work that has been entirely or partially crafted by AI. Sheesh!

I spent decades, as a professor, thwarting attempted plagiarism. Thereafter, I spent decades, as an author, fashioning all manner of creative writing. Excepting make-believe accounts, e.g., provided by speculative fiction, I regarded it is improbable that electronic brains would ever replace humans in producing meaningful assemblages of observations.

On the one hand, it’s spot-on that much ad copy, white paper copy, and similar texts’ copy (think user manuals, education workbooks, and all that) are regularly constructed by low level employees undertaking menial tasks; folks with comparative intelligence or authority try to avoid those dull assignments. Consider that the Internet’s SEO sensitivity has forever ruined the imaginative flair that the best and brightest used to bring to communication-based industries. These days, content development is drudgery. Hence, it makes sense, both from an employee satisfaction perspective and from the point of view of corporate economics to let machines turn out such paragraphs and pages.

To boot, many scripters, enjoy the aid of spelling check and grammar check programs. The caveat with this software, however, is that it is only as “smart” as the individuals who created it. Meaning, whereas “commonplace” turns of phrase are built-in, rare designations and foreign, Anglicized ones are not. For instance, when I wrote an essay about the relative ethics of medicos’ interactions with patients, the noun “archetype,” a routine locution in philosophical jargon, set off alarms. Likewise, whenever I use the Greek word topoi, a popular tenet in rhetoric’s lingo (I was a rhetoric professor), that vocable gets flagged. Essentially, the apps that seek mechanical errors are useful in a first or second edit of a piece but not beyond.

On the other hand, it’s not just deepfakes, i.e., digitally manipulated images, that are problematic. Cybernated expressions are troublesome, too.

Weigh that beyond writing for fiduciary gain, we write for other reasons. Sometimes, writing is rooted in passion. It’s not merely pictures captured on electronic image sensors and then circulated, analogous to those taken and disseminated from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, that spur political revolutions. Meaningfully grouped remarks have, theoretically, decreased prejudice against differently abled folks, neurospicy folks, fat folks, old folks, Jewish folks, etc. Whereas essays drawn from the heart have not and probably cannot defeat all bigotry, they seem to make a difference.

Other times, writing is brought into being in the name of healing. International organizations and private therapists, in the same way, encourage people, who are journeying to wellness, to keep a diary, to write down (and, maybe, also to burn) harsh deliberations or to make nondominant hand-generated lists of what they are keen on about themselves. In these cases, writing’s curative power can supersede the recovery yielded by pharmaceuticals or talk therapy.

As well, there is writing that grows from and addresses curiosity. Time and again, when someone puts pen to paper or strokes a keyboard, they’re doing so because they are probing.  Those persons usually push on existential questions, including, “would two-headed gelatinous wildebeests really make good pets,” “what would a dystopic Pittsburgh look like,” or “why do mockingbirds sing at night?” For those parties, writing is a daunting roller coaster, a set of stones meant to be skipped, and an aromatic cholent. Without the possibility of putting statements together, those partakers would venues in which to explore thoughts.

Basically, I don’t want a processer to link phrases for me (or for anyone else). I value nuanced descriptions, unique narrator and character voices, and plot twists than only a “puny” human mind can conjure.

Correspondingly, I don’t want my writing students to rely on computer programs to bring together their works. It’s bad enough that the younger generations can’t use analog clocks, are uncomfortable with face-to-face exchanges, and don’t know how to read (paper) maps. If they continue to employ increasingly less critical thinking, that choice would bode ill for them, specifically, and for our society, in general. Writing is a bastion for human development. Surely, we ought to shun many applications of AI’s handiwork.

Just as artificial colorings and flavorings has been proven to be carcinogenic in our food and just as unnatural scent and texture has proven to be equally problematic in our toiletries, I surmise that artificial ideas will be revealed to undergird the downfall of our status quo. Let’s not allow that future to occur.

For today, I’ll continue to use apps on my initial passes, to check my documents. I will not, nonetheless, utilize them to manufacture texts for me. Further, as an editor and as a teacher, I’ll do my best to make sure that my contributors and my students write in the “old-fashioned” way. In most cases, there’s no good to be found in artificial writing.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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