ChatGPT is the new artificial intelligence tool upending higher education. It is a language-based computer model that simulates human thinking by generating language. By gathering language from different sources such as Wikipedia, books, websites, and other texts, it can predict a missing word and write short answers, paragraphs, and essays based on a few keywords. ChatGPT might mimic human language, but it lacks one element that distinguishes us as intelligent, spiritual beings: authentic voices.
Writing teachers show students that certain steps in the writing process cannot be skipped. Brainstorming, drafting, revising, and editing are all acquired but necessary skills. These steps are messy, overlap, and sometimes require repeated attempts, much like our spiritual journeys of repentance, salvation, and ongoing sanctification. It takes years to develop skills in a field, and it might take a lifetime to follow Jesus as we should, but each year, each “rough draft” or setback means that I am stronger than I was a day, a month, a year ago.
Authenticity means hard work, which is something ChatGPT doesn’t know. For ChatGPT, authenticity means algorithms. It has a network of perceptrons—computer programs consisting of multiple inputs and outputs. Unfortunately, these perceptrons lack the spiritual perception and “heart knowledge” that comes with the hard work of living in relationships. King Solomon’s heartfelt response to two mothers fighting over one baby (1 Kings 3:16-28) teaches us that value judgments based purely on hardened knowledge can never satisfy. Christians are asked to make nuanced decisions based on compassion and love for others, especially the marginalized.
I always encourage my students to develop their writing voices. A “voice” is a unique writing style that can be identified by the writer’s word choices or sentence structure, but it also means that the writer has something important to say. Describing writing as truth-telling, Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird says, “You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work.” For Lamott, a writer’s voice hinges on an idea or a story, not on predictive analytics. ChatGPT’s data input ended in 2021, so it is unaware of current events or trends since that time. ChatGPT is in a perpetual time loop and simply reflects what others have plugged into its system. It is not generating original content coming from a hard-earned understanding of the old and the new.
I’d like to think that life and learning are about making connections with people. Living with others can reveal our fears and frustrations, but people, especially those who are different from us or who challenge our worldviews, can give us the most beautiful gifts. As Christ-followers, sharing these human connections is a messy process that takes time. ChatGPT might mimic human language, but it fails miserably at saying something significant because it works in isolation, far removed from a writer’s real-world struggles. It reports rather than creates. Our own ability to create is a hallmark of our God-derived identity. Much like learning any skill, the process of becoming authentic Christ-followers is a long journey consisting of fits and starts and endless remaking. Focusing on this difficult process rather than a product needs to be honored.