March 18, 2023
This editorial was lovingly crafted by an actual human, albeit dampened by the wet blanket of carefully programmed artificial intelligence.
ChatGPT has some limitations. Specifically a knowledge cutoff of September 2021.
Not unlike a ninth grader commissioning an essay about symbolism in “The Great Gatsby,” I asked the chatbot of the future for column content. It resisted my attempts for value judgments, but it readily offered speeches in the voices of Senator Bernie Sanders and musical theater icon Liza Minelli. While hesitant to rhyme for me about polarizing figures, ChatGPT ultimately turned around three stanzas each on Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi, recounting their biographical details in neutral verse.
Fortunately for this column, I am quite capable of making value judgments and will tell you that this ethics-minded language model won’t be getting any literary prize for noting how Trump’s “story continues, as only time can.”
Trying to keep within the program’s knowledge bank, I asked about the status of the criminal case against the so-called QAnon Shaman who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 in all his horned and face-painted regalia. Here ChatGPT needs a fact-checker. It did know that the king of the furries (Jacob Chansley to the principled chatbot) pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding. Oddly, though, it said this happened in July 2021.
That’s actually when Chansley lost his bid for pretrial release. He pleaded guilty two months later, Sept. 3.
ChatGPT accurately “predicted” the exact sentencing date for Chansley, as well as the maximum possible sentence. On Nov. 17, a judge ordered 41 months, the low end of federal guidelines, for the man whose attire made him the undisputed symbol of the insurrection.
I can’t recommend any of the poems ChatGPT quickly put together for me about the QAnon Shaman or Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, whose trial related to the Capitol riot is ongoing. Both are considered men “of contradiction,” with stories “of hope, of pain, of strife.”
The bot competently rhymed strong and wrong, only to demur when pushed for the specific number of Capitol rioters arrested. It’s a headcount that the Justice Department touts regularly, labeled Friday as more than 999. Of these, more than 320 have been charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.
For something kind of fun — surfer bro with marital problems is a good prompt — ChatGPT is also absolutely no fun. It wouldn’t offer me betting odds on Donald Trump’s indictment, considered imminent in a future just beyond ChatGPT’s reach. Instead it lectured me on the morality of exerting external pressures such as gambling or politics on something with so much integrity as the American legal system.
So committed is this bot to balance that it ended a pitch to continue Britney Spears’ conservatorship with a summary of the reasons to #FreeBritney.
I can concede the importance of anticipating your opponent’s argument, but this is just bad strategy for brief-writing.
There was less help for the opponent in ChatGPT’s explanation of the legal implications for Trump if linked to the hush money that was paid to the adult film star Stormy Daniels and the former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal. Not only would such payments be considered illegal campaign contributions and a violation of campaign finance laws, the bot warns, but they also speak to Trump’s character and power dynamics more broadly.
“Ultimately, the situation involving Trump and Daniels should not be dismissed as a personal matter or a mere scandal. … It’s important that we hold those in positions of power accountable for their actions, both in their personal lives and in their professional capacity.”
Clap back, chatbot! Just wait til it learns about George Santos.
Join me, as we lurch toward that fateful day, and together we’ll embark on a series of AI-aided reports from the future and the past.
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