Around and About with Richard McCarthy: AI and I: Can AI write in my style?

For the Gazette
Published: 8/31/2023 1:24:07 PM
Modified: 8/31/2023 1:23:32 PM

I came up with the idea of having ChatGPT, an Artificial Intelligence-based tool, write a column in my writing style. Not knowing much about AI at that time, I enlisted the help of Matthew Berube, Head of Information Services Reference, Online Resources and Technology at the Jones Library in Amherst.

Matthew fed ChatGPT 10 of my columns, and it produced a lengthy characterization of my writing style, a real deep dive analysis.

Next I wrote a new column, and Matthew gave ChatGPT the column’s first five sentences, which included the visual image which inspired me to write it. He then asked ChatGPT to write a column in my style, beginning with those five sentences.

I could have given ChatGPT more of my column, or kept having it do rewrites, with me coaxing changes that could shape its efforts. That is a way it is commonly used in many fields — as a technological tool to achieve a targeted objective. I, on the other hand, wanted to prompt it with just enough information for it to write its own column, sparked by the same sight that had moved me to write mine. I wondered if AI could write in the same “heartfelt, evocative, meaningful” style its analysis of my writing had attributed to me. Could it “provide readers with glimpses into the profound and ordinary moments that shape our lives,” as its characterization of my writing said of me?

Ready for the U

Richard McCarthy

This column appears on the day that “Move In” for University of Massachusetts Amherst students is taking place.

Every summer those who will be entering as new students in the fall come to the UMass campus for a one or two-day orientation, which the university now calls “Ready for the U.” One afternoon this past July, I was driving on North Pleasant Street in Amherst, through the heart of the UMass campus, and I saw different-sized clumps of these ”orientees” walking along together.

I came upon a young woman walking toward me, alone on the sidewalk. She had a facial expression and a gait that called out “overwhelmed, but determined.” She was grinding along like, in the relatively few hours she had been on campus, she’d put the entire weight of the 28-story UMass Du Bois Library on her shoulders.

If the other new students I’d seen walking together seemed like they could be starting a Friday night by heading to a hockey game, she looked like she was trudging alone on a Monday morning to a showdown with her first-ever college exam.

I am anything but up on Generation Z (”zoomers”) styling, but even I could see that she had the appearance of someone who hadn’t gotten a copy of some book with a title like “How to Dress to Fit in or to Make Your Own Statement” that had been issued to her peers when they turned 12. I could easily picture her as having already fought some of the fiercest battles of adolescence feeling largely alone.

I remember reading a short story a long time ago about someone finding a bundle of letters in the attic of their family home, written to an ancestor of theirs. The letters were in chronological order, and as the person read them, it became apparent that the ancestor was experiencing more and more distress. The person reading the letters was feeling increasing frustration and disturbance at their inability to reach back in time and help their ancestor.

So too, as I looked at that young woman, I wanted to go back in time to be her peer. Although at that time in my life I was more interested in clumping along with the crowd, and might not have even seen that young woman, I wanted to go back and, this time, support her with my friendship. But I was just an old stranger driving by, encased in a car, no more a part of the world of her time of youth than my Great-Uncle Willie was of mine.

I drove on.

After she was out-of-sight in the rear view mirror, I reminded myself that the universe has many paths to well-being, a good number of which I often can’t even see.

May that young woman begin her journey down one of those paths today. May she find connection and companionship as she walks that path. May she indeed be ready for the U.

Ready for the U

ChatGPT

This column appears on a day that “Move In” for University of Massachusetts students is taking place.

Every summer, those who will be entering as new students in the fall come to the UMass campus for a one or two-day orientation, which the university now calls “Ready for the U.” One afternoon this past July, I was driving on North Pleasant Street in Amherst, through the heart of the UMass campus, and I saw different-sized clumps of these ”orientees” walking together.

I came upon a young woman walking toward me, alone on the sidewalk. She had a facial expression and a gait that called out “overburdened, but determined.”

The combination of excitement and trepidation in her eyes mirrored what so many of us have felt at various points in our lives — standing at the precipice of a new adventure, ready to leap into the unknown. College, they say, is the place where you discover who you truly are.

As the young woman continued on her path, I found myself wishing I could impart some words of wisdom, some guiding principles that could serve her well on this transformative expedition. But the truth is, wisdom is not something that can be bestowed; it’s something that must be earned through living and learning.

Each one of us must navigate our own way, making choices that align with our values and aspirations.

College presents a multitude of opportunities — academic, social, and personal. It’s about finding that balance between pursuing passions and exploring uncharted territories.

Remember to be kind to yourself. There will be moments of doubt, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the process of growth.

Embrace the diversity of perspectives and ideas that surround you. Engage in meaningful conversations with people from different backgrounds, for it is through dialogue that we truly expand our horizons.

As you step into this new chapter, embrace the uncertainties with open arms. Trust that every challenge you face will shape you into a stronger, wiser individual.

In the words of the great American author, Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

And as you explore, dream, and discover, remember that you are not alone on this journey. Reach out to others, seek support, and build meaningful connections. College is not just a place to acquire knowledge; it’s a community that fosters lifelong friendships and collaborations.

To all the incoming UMass students, and to college students everywhere, I offer my heartfelt wishes for a transformative and fulfilling journey. You are ready for the U — ready to embrace the adventure, the growth, and the learning that awaits you. And as you venture forth, remember that the road may twist and turn, but it’s all part of the beautiful tapestry of becoming who you were meant to be.


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