Op-Ed: AI chatbots do more harm than good

Several AI robots storm around threateningly

Lily Hyunh/The Cougar

Editor’s Note: Iván Brave is a graduate student at the University of Houston currently working on his doctorate in Spanish Creative Writing.

Don’t do it. Don’t use chatbots, at least not willy-nilly like you might be used to. Picture this: It’s Sunday night, you’re hungover and sweating bullets under your A/C unit. You know you shouldn’t, but you whisper to yourself about the deadline, the headache and all the sincere justifications.

But really, you’re just pushing your last chips on expediency, confessing, “Dear ChatBot, I am dead, I am tired. Please, with a cherry on top, compose the most brilliant five-hundred words on. . . .” Then you copy, you paste, you win, right? Wrong.

But hey, don‎’t take it from me. I’m just a PhD student who hand-graded about a hundred SPAN-1502 compositions to date and has been struggling to compose his own quality essays since 2009. But hard work pays off: I have since published two novels, fifteen pieces of short fiction, plus translations and poetry. And never once have I produced a worthwhile piece of creative writing using AI. And believe me, I have tried.

Now let me ask you this: if a piece of technology—say, that old gray A/C unit that’s been around for over a hundred years—if that faithful device breaks down when you need it the most, then what makes you think some glorified algorithm won’t slip-and-slide, sideswipe or trick you last minute? It will. I recommend you investigate for yourself just what lies beneath those “helpful” chatbots that “save us” from thinking. Try starting with 3Blue1Brown’s detailed illustration on Youtube and dive deeper from there.

“Professor, excuse me,” you might say, half raising your hand. “I already know about transformers and softmax and text hallucination.” Ok. “I just use AI to get a draft going.” Uh-huh. Have you heard of outlines? “I just use it to improve my grammar.” You mean, to correct your grammar for you? “AI makes writing easy and fast, what’s wrong with that?”

Well, AI does make writing “easy and fast.”  But is that what you want out of your college experience? Personally, I want it to last forever. Fifteen years after I entered a university for the first time, I am applying to teach at local colleges. Check out this ghastly opening paragraph that a chatbot spit out for me when I asked it to edit a cover letter:

Dear Hiring Committee,

With a Ph.D. in Spanish and nine years of experience teaching undergraduate language and culture courses, I am confident that I possess the expertise and passion to excel as the Professor of Modern Language at _____. My deep commitment to student-centered learning, coupled with my active research agenda and record of service, make me an ideal candidate to contribute to blah blah blah, it goes on.

Now look at what I ended up sending, after I asked for help from a human mentor:

Dear Members of the Search Committee,

I am writing to communicate how my values, qualifications, and admiration of _____ align with the College, while my MFA and PhD in Creative Writing, along with my nine years of teaching, position me to contribute meaningfully to your department.

This version is crisp, clear and to the point. In other words, it’s the result of a lifetime commitment to developing my mind and asking for help from a person ten years ahead of me in my career. We came here to discover who we are, didn’t we? We came here to learn. That AI one tab away? I might as well ask it to shake my head too, because why not.

If you want help, ask a friend. If you want speed, write an outline. But whatever you do, do not start Sunday night. Trust me, we are not robots.

Iván Brave is a Spanish Creative Writing PhD student who can be reached via his website at ivanbrave.com

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