Black Bird Bookstore

What happens when a bookstore owner engages ChatGPT?

March 2023

Dear Readers,

As the granddaughter of the first microwave owners in a small town in Louisiana, I recently decided it was time to engage with this ChatGPT thing (despite my obvious luddite tendencies as a bookstore owner). I imagine most of you, like me, have read the film reviews in ‘Shakespearean style’ and love letters in ‘Dr. Seuss rhyme’ all written by this new author, ChatGPT, that are circulating in the fearosphere known as social media. With some asking the question, is this the beginning of the end of (human) writers?  

As I sat staring at the blinking cursor (ah, at least that hasn’t changed!), I decided to interview this new voice on the literary scene with a few softball questions before digging in. What were the best books of 2020? A list was generated. No surprises. Mostly bestsellers. Then I asked Have you read any of the books on the list? No. With matter-of-fact word choices, ChatGPT's response acknowledged the difference between aggregation with external ranking (what it does, and Amazon btw) and reading with its intractable connection to personal experience. 

I decided to go deeper, 

Can you write a novel about your own experiences as a chatbot? 

Response: "Writing a novel involves a deep understanding of human experiences, emotions, and motivations, and this is an area where AI technology is still developing."

Could ChatGPT one day write its own future with the richness of imagination as Philip K. Dick, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler or Vonnegut? 

"Still developing". Join the crowd.

Then I asked it again to list the 'best books of 2020' - and a different list of books appeared! Ah, it appears having an opinion is also distinctly human.