Rendered Fat Content


Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas:
Mounted Jockey (c. 1866)

"Self esteem seems over-rated, if not impossible …"

I find myself somewhere in the middle of the current controversy surrounding Artificial Intelligence. The purists stand steadfastly against it, insisting that resorting to its assistance will, over time, reduce the brightest of us into idiocy. The advocates don't see such threateningly sinister results. They figure AI's just another in a seemingly never-ending line of technology, an indifferent presence and nothing to get all riled up about. I stand somewhere in the middle, as I said, because I sense a clear and present danger of impending idiocy while at the same time figuring the suspected impact has probably been overstated. As my awareness of my own use of AI has increased, I have so far experienced more positive than negative results, though those positive outcomes have come with a price. My AI Grammer Checker, for instance, initially left me feeling like an idiot, for it clearly demonstrated just how little I knew about writing. Now, after a few weeks of continued use, I've come to feel as though I might qualify as an IncompleteIdiot, more like an idiot in training, and that AI has been serving as my teacher.

I had no idea how little I knew about writing before the AI Grammer Checker started parsing my prose.
I knew so little at first that The Checker would flag almost a hundred issues in six hundred words. Some sentences would earn multiple violations, and almost no sentence went unquestioned. I questioned The Checker’s questions, struggling to retain some modest sense of ownership, haughtily rejecting more than half of its suggestions as violations of voice or something. I made up my defense! I came to trust The Checker's advice on commas, an issue to which I remain steadfastly indifferent. I employ a comma whenever I feel the need to take a breath. The Checker employs more complex criteria. The checking can feel humiliating, though. The Checker deemed yesterday's story question free. I could not believe that feedback, but try as I might, I could not goose The Checker into reporting even the suspicion of a question. Later, though, when pasting the finished story into another application, The Checker found reason to question that instance. I patiently worked through the fifty or so questions, then copied and pasted the finished product into my other domains.

As a direct result of all these questions, I've gained a fresh skepticism regarding my writing abilities. It's clear now how little I ever knew about composition's formal rules. I've long held that I fully qualify as my own worst copyeditor, and The Checker validates this opinion. Some hold that the actual value of AI might be as a teacher and that subjecting my writing to continued questioning might eventually lead me to learn something about my chosen profession. My decades of two-and-a-half-fingered typing have taught me nothing about typing with the other seven and a half digits, so I suspect that even infinite experience subjecting myself to The Checker's questions might not teach me much except to try to remain faithful to my voice, even when it offends my snooty AI assistant.

I come to question just who's writing my stories now. There was a time when writing renewed my sense of self-esteem. Now, nearing my dotage, writing mostly encourages more questions regarding my deeper intentions. Did I mean to call my perspective into question? Yes, because I cannot say much for sure, I can clearly report how anything seems. The Checker believes I might offend my readers if I don't sound more decisive. If I sounded decisive, I would put off the author. I can see my future spreading out before me. I seem blessed or cursed with the raw material I already possess, however meager or modest. I doubt that AI will significantly increase my writing knowledge, but neither will it likely leave me wallowing in anything like complete idiocy. No, it seems determined to leave me hanging between those polarities, probably forever becoming the IncompleteIdiot I always was, but now with a slightly increased understanding of just what an idiot I always was.

Self-esteem seems over-rated, if not impossible, thanks in no small part to our Artificially Intelligent Assistants. In the best of all worlds, AI would increase the net amount of humility in the universe, which would be a definite force for good. Humbled but not yet wholly humiliated, I'll continue writing my stories and subjecting them to AI's incessant questioning, I guess.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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