slice of life · technology · writing

The Big A.I. Talk

The time has come for all of us to have THE TALK with our kids.

Not THAT talk! Rather, THE TALK about A.I. Chatbots!

I’ve been keeping A.I. under wraps since I read about ChatGPT in The Atlantic in December 2022. Then I read this “The A.I. Chatbots Have Arrived. Time to Talk to Your Kids” last week, which made me realize I need to talk to my daughter about A.I. before someone else does. As important as I think it is for people to do their own writing, I’ve come to understand — through a lot of reading about A.I. — that there are many benefits to using A.I. chatbots.

But first, I needed to talk to Marc about A.I. to get on the same page. A.I. isn’t going anywhere, so it’s time for us to decide how we will and won’t sanction Isabelle to use it as parents. (In late January, when Melanie Meehan and I recorded “The Benefits of Teaching Writing Through a Workshop Approach” with Olivia Wahl for her Schoolutions podcast, I admitted to keeping A.I. hidden from Isabelle. You can listen from 37:20 – 39:45 if you want to hear me talk about this.)

This morning, we played with the Poe app, which allows you to try out a variety of A.I.-powered bots. I kept feeding Poe’s A.I. chatbots prompts to show Marc how they did writing essays on everything from Civil War battles to writing a Bat Mitzvah speech. He noticed that the essays it crafted in less than 15 seconds were better than decent. I explained to Marc that while the chatbots’ essays were good enough, they lacked voice. (I told Marc about Michel de Montaigne, who wrote in the French countryside for pleasure and called his attempts at writing, essaying, which is the French word for trying.) We also talked about GPTZero, which can detect whether a human created a writing piece or used A.I..

Throughout the day, Marc and I have circled back to A.I. and its implications on everything from essay writing to practicing medicine. On our car ride home from King of Prussia, I was trying to distract myself from a miserable (albeit healthy) decision I made not to buy myself a milkshake for the car ride home. (Marc, Isabelle, and Ari bought milkshakes for the drive home.) I decided to task Poe with some mentor text work by telling its various chatbots to write a poem in the style of “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams that dealt with drinking too much of a milkshake.

Most ELA teachers would know the first, second, and third poems were created with A.I. since Williams’ “This Is Just to Say” does not rhyme!

GPT-4 produced the only poem that could pass muster. (GPT-4 is more advanced relative to ChatGPT. It is supposed to be better at creative writing, solving problems, and following instructions.) I attempted to run it through GPTZero, but couldn’t analyze what GPT-4 produced because it was too short.

Now that the day is drawing to a close, I have two parting thoughts:

  1. Before talking to my kids, I have more tinkering I need to do with A.I. Chatbots.
  2. I need to get that milkshake out of my head!
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29 thoughts on “The Big A.I. Talk

  1. Like you, I’ve read extensively about AI chatbot. I also participated in a webinar on them and plan to find more PD, even though I’m retired. Here’s the thing: Despite claims AI will benefit students, I’m not convinced most teachers are on that track. Maybe it can facilitate discussions about voice, but does this Pandora’s box have benefits that outweigh the negatives. I don’t know yet. What I can say is it’s a problem for me when AI gets invited into creative writing groups and given a front row seat as happened in my world recently. That broke me a little. Maybe a lot. I also know AI is here to stay. I’ve written two blog posts about AI this year. I imagine I’ll be writing more.

    1. After I read your comment, I typed this question — Should people use chatbots for creative writing? — into Poe. I think you’ll be pleased with the response.

      “As an AI language model, I can tell you that chatbots can help with creative writing to a certain extent. However, it’s important to note that chatbots are not a substitute for human creativity and imagination.

      Chatbots can be used as a tool to generate ideas or provide inspiration for creative writing. For example, some chatbots can provide writing prompts or suggest synonyms for words. This can be helpful when experiencing writer’s block or looking for new ways to approach a topic.

      Additionally, chatbots can assist with some aspects of the writing process, such as grammar and spelling checks. This can help writers to identify errors and improve the overall quality of their writing.

      However, relying solely on chatbots for creative writing can limit the originality and uniqueness of the writing. Chatbots are programmed to follow certain patterns and rules, which can result in formulaic or predictable writing.

      Furthermore, writing is a deeply personal and expressive art form, and the use of chatbots can distance the writer from their own voice and style. It’s important for writers to develop their own unique style and voice, which can only come from within.

      In conclusion, chatbots can be a helpful tool for creative writing, but they should not be relied on as a substitute for human creativity and imagination. It’s important for writers to develop their own style and voice, and use chatbots as a supportive tool rather than a replacement for their own creativity.”

      1. I’m glad the Chatbot knows it’s limits. Will all humans? Time will tell. I’m sure you’ve read about kindle novelists using chatbot for character development.

  2. ChatBots have been all over my house this week, ever since my husband got invited to give feedback on Bard. He has been asking it write essays on all sorts of topics, generate paintings of random subjects in the style of different artists, write love letters to his wife (me), and also writing poems, too. It’s amazing and scary what it can do. My kids have been helping him think of random requests, but I haven’t thought to have THE TALK about responsible use of AI. Right now they think of it as a toy, but I’m sure that will change and I want to be in front with ground rules and guidelines.

    1. It does feel toy-like at first!
      I think it’s quite cool that Bard can generate paintings in the style of other artists. BUT, that begs the question, what will people value/consider as art?

  3. Wow, this is fascinating to me as both a writer and teacher. I’m nervous (terrified?) that we’re ending the age of creativity. Honestly not totally sure what to make of it all yet but what I do know is I really want a milkshake now.

    1. The milkshake craving is real! Alas, we ate tacos last night, which was a total splurge since I’m watching my caloric intake since my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah is around the corner (and I need to lose 5 lbs.)!

  4. A fascinating slice and response thread. The chatpot may produce poetry but it will never know what it’s like to feel joy of writing something and drink milkshakes. (The only way to get a milkshake out of a head is to get it into your stomach.)

  5. I appreciate your foray into the topic, complete with first hand experimentation. I’m also following the discussion and having conversations with both of my sons (28 & 15), mostly inquiry focused, on how they are using chatbots or might use them. One of my tech critic friends calls them “fancy autocomplete” while also acknowledging the hype response that attends most new tech tools. In any case, your approach makes so much sense and provides a really useful example for folks looking for a way to begin exploring, questioning, deciding where to go next and how.

  6. So many ai’s. I haven’t even thought about talking to my kids about this yet. You’ve given me plenty to think about…and as I scan the other comments…read!

  7. I’ve also been playing with AI and thinking about what it can do especially when it comes to helping students who really struggle with written expression. We’ll talk more about it, I’ve no doubt.

    1. I still need to complete a variety of demonstration texts about the same subject but at different levels. I recall you doing that early on. Definitely something we should discuss… maybe even in season 2.

  8. We just had a discussion about ChatGPT and AI with friends over dinner last night. Your post gave me more to think about. It would be important to use AI as a tool in a responsible way. Plagiarism is still a concern, especially at university levels. I think parents need to have this discussion with students by 5th or 6th grade. Kids are so tech savvy! Should teachers have this discussion with their students, too? Should it be a topic of discussion among teachers for professional development?

    1. I think teachers SHOULD discuss with kids. It’s the elephant in the room, but it doesn’t have to be (unless, of course, one’s school district bans it like the NYCDOE did).

  9. Stacey, I’m glad you are experimenting with it. I did for the first time recently, and was stunned with what could happen. I asked for a triolet, and ChatGPT wrote a perfect one. (well, for AI, I guess) Anyway, I laughed when I saw what some of the AIs did with the WCW poem. Every time I tried to get it to write a poem without rhyme, it would give me rhymes–that same four line stanzas, ABAB, I think. I said, “Stop rhyming” once, and it said, “Ok, we can write a poem without rhyming,” and it went on to write it in the same rhyming scheme.

    I had an interesting experience with GPTZero. (It is not like TurnItIn because AI is not finding things to copy, it is creating every single time.) It gave me no hope for the future, when it said my ChatGPT poem was likely to have been written entirely by a human. I wrote about it here:

    All the best as you and Marc talk to Isabelle about the artificial intelligence and how it can and will affect writing and schooling in the future.

    1. I just had my initial conversation with Isabelle about A.I. It gave us two entirely false facts. We asked it to list playgrounds in our town and one of the five it gave us was in Allegheny County, which is five hours west! Also, we asked a question about the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, which one answer told us was delayed (as where the other one confirmed its existence.)

      Once we dove deeper, I showed Isabelle how it could write speeches and essays. She looked at me and said, “Isn’t that plagiarism?” A good chat followed, but I was thankful, at the very least, that she realizes claiming writing that’s not yours as yours is dishonest. At least I’ve done something right as a parent if that was her first response.

  10. The AI conversation has been heavy in my world the last two weeks. I appreciate your post and framing it as “the talk.” I also love that you shared screenshots of what different programs produced for you. I still don’t know where I stand with use in the classroom, but I’m definitely willing to listen and learn.

  11. I definitely want a milkshake. I am so appreciative of your slice today – and I think you’ve shown the delectable connection between milkshakes and poetry, how the body craves the real thing. I am thankful to be retired and able to ‘ignore’ to some degree the use of A.I. in teaching/learning, but I feel for educators, as they try to instigate thought in the midst of such ‘instant gratification”. I love the idea of sitting down with your children for “the talk” – this feels very wise. To date, to me, the tools feel wildly fast but wildly flat – I am reminded of yesteryear’s Cliff Notes.

  12. It was the promise of a milkshake that drew me to your story, and I’m glad because there is much to assess and think about with AI, but now I want a milkshake, too. And by the way…go to DQ and order a ‘blizzard’ with only chocolate syrup and malt. OMG!

  13. It’s so interesting how you framed this in terms of having “the talk” with your children. As someone who teaches younger grades, I haven’t felt the need to address AI in class yet, but your post is making me think that perhaps it would be valuable to kids and families for me to start that discussion now. Thanks for expanding my thinking about AI!

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