Since OpenAI took the wraps off ChatGPT, a chatbot that generates sentences that closely mimic actual human-written prose, social media has been abuzz with users trying fun, low-stakes uses for the technology. The bot has been asked to create cocktail recipes, compose lyrics and write a Gilligan’s Island script where the castaways deal with Covid. ChatGPT avoids some of the pitfalls of past chatbots — like racist or hateful language — and the excitement about this iteration of the technology is palpable.
ChatGPT’s skill at coming up with fluent, authoritative-sounding answers and responding to additional, related questions in a coherent thread is a testament to how far artificial intelligence has advanced. But it’s also raising a host of questions about how readers will be able to tell the difference between the bot’s content and authentic human-written language. That’s because ChatGPT’s text can achieve a certain level of what comedian Stephen Colbert once called “truthiness” — something that has the look and feel of being true even if it’s not based in fact.
The tool was released last week. By Monday, Stack Overflow, a Q&A site for computer programmers, temporarily banned answers generated by ChatGPT, with moderators saying they were seeing thousands of such posts — and that they often contained inaccuracies, making them “substantially harmful” to the site. And even when the answers are accurate, the bot-generated material on, say, history or science is good enough to provoke debate about whether it could be used to cheat on tests or essays or job applications. Factual or not, the ChatGPT answers are a proximate echo of human speech, a facsimile of the real thing, boosting the case that OpenAI may have to come up with a way to flag such content as software-generated rather than human-authored.