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ChatGPT Has Nothing To Say

Recently, with all the hype and hubbub about ChatGPT taking the jobs of creative professionals like writers, copy editors and journalists, I decided to have a conversation with ChatGPT about creativity. The conversation started with me prompting it to,

"Explain how ChatGPT works and make the case that it is or is not creative."

ChatGPT is an AI language model developed by OpenAI. It is based on a deep learning algorithm called Transformer that was trained on a massive amount of text data from the internet. The training process allows ChatGPT to understand patterns and relationships between words and phrases in the text, allowing it to generate human-like responses to questions or prompts.

While ChatGPT can generate text that appears creative, it is important to note that it is not capable of independent thought or original creation. Its responses are generated based on patterns it has seen in its training data, rather than through any kind of inherent imagination or creativity. In other words, ChatGPT is not creative, but it can display elements of creativity in its text output.

In conclusion, ChatGPT is a powerful tool for generating text-based responses, but it is important to understand its limitations and the limitations of other AI models. It can produce output that appears creative, but it does not have the ability to generate truly original ideas or creations.

First of all, this is amazing, right? A computer program that can explain how it works by using the very process it is explaining. That's meta. And even though it's telling you how the magic happens - by essentially just being really good at guessing the next word in a sentence - it doesn't make the trick any less marvelous. In fact, isn't that how I'm writing this essay - one word at a time?

But lets pivot back to the conversation at hand. I didn't fully buy that ChatGPT is not creative because it doesn't produce anything "original". I've heard this argument from people before, and it hangs entirely on someone's answer to the next question I asked ChatGPT:

"What does it mean for an idea to be original?"

An idea is considered to be original if it is novel, unique, and has not been expressed or developed before. Original ideas are the result of independent thought and imagination, and they have not been directly influenced by prior knowledge or experience. When an idea is truly original, it offers a new perspective, approach or solution to a problem, and it often requires creativity and ingenuity.

In contrast, non-original ideas are those that have been derived from existing sources or that are influenced by prior knowledge or experience. They may be innovative or useful, but they do not represent a truly novel thought or concept.

This is a common contradiction about being creative: that its opposite is to be derivative even though every idea we have is derived from something else that we've seen, learned, or experienced. Creativity isn't the act of imagining something new, but reimagining something old. So, I pushed back on ChatGPT's unoriginal idea of originality.

"But aren't all our ideas influenced by our own prior knowledge and experience?"

Yes, all ideas are influenced to some extent by an individual's prior knowledge and experiences. Our prior knowledge and experiences shape the way we perceive and understand the world, and they influence the thought processes and concepts that we generate.

However, the extent to which an idea is original can still be differentiated. Some ideas are heavily influenced by prior knowledge and experience and are therefore more closely related to existing ideas, while others may draw on prior knowledge in a more subtle or indirect way, resulting in a more original idea.

In general, the degree of originality in an idea can be seen as a spectrum, with completely original ideas at one end and heavily derivative ideas at the other. The exact definition of what constitutes an original idea can be subjective and may vary depending on the context and the individual evaluating the idea.

I like how ChatGPT is starting to walk back its original line in the sand. A few moments ago, it was claiming that to be creative one had to be completely new and novel. Now, it is starting to see being creative as much more nuanced. The level to which work is creative is now a spectrum. So, the obvious next question to ask is...

"Where do the ideas ChatGPT produces lay on that spectrum?"

ChatGPT's ideas can be considered to be closer to the derivative end of the spectrum of originality. The ideas it generates are based on patterns it has seen in its training data, rather than on independent thought or imagination. While it may generate responses that appear creative or novel, these ideas are still limited by the text inputs it was trained on, and they do not represent truly original thoughts or concepts.

In this sense, ChatGPT's ideas can be seen as similar to a person who has memorized a large amount of information and can recall and recombine that information in new ways. While the output may appear original, it is still based on prior knowledge and experiences represented in its training data.

Randy Pausch - a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon - said of himself in his last lecture that, "It's easy to seem smart when you're parroting smart people." Pausch was a very smart guy. This statement was him being humble and revealing how he felt a sense of imposter syndrome at the intellect people perceived him to have. The question I'd like to pose is whether ChatGPT is doing the same thing.

ChatGPT compares itself to "a person who has memorized a large amount of information and can recall and recombine that information in new ways". If that person existed in real life - Pauch's parrot on adderall - would we not say that that person is exceptionally creative?

And this is where I feel perspective comes into play. We don't get to decide if we are seen as smart or creative - everyone else does. So, I responded to ChatGPT...

"But isn't that spectrum subjective and change with the evaluator's perspective? What if someone thinks the ideas ChatGPT produces are creative?"

The perception of an idea's originality or creativity is subjective and can vary depending on the individual evaluating the idea. If someone evaluating ChatGPT's ideas thinks they are creative, it could be due to a variety of factors, such as the novelty of the language used, the unexpectedness of the response, or the relevance of the idea to the prompt or context.

However, it is important to understand that while ChatGPT's output may appear creative to some individuals, it is still limited by its training data and the patterns it recognizes. The ideas it generates are not the result of independent thought or imagination, but rather the result of recombining information in new ways.

Ultimately, the evaluation of ChatGPT's ideas as creative or not will depend on the individual's perspective and the criteria they use to determine originality and creativity.

Like many people in this world, ChatGPT harbors the limiting belief that to be creative means to be novel and original to oneself. However, this is a fallacy.

We will never see the things we produce as wholly original because we know that all of our ideas are just up-cycled gifts from the past. Our ideas will always be based on our own experiences and knowledge - remixes of things we have seen before - just like ChatGPT and its training data. So, to ourselves, all of our ideas look derivative because we know how they were derived.

The role to judge if our work is or is not creative then does not lie with us, but with those we share it with. The audience - with their own perspective, past experience, and knowledge - decides what they find original or derivative. It's all subjective.

This combination of prejudgement and fear or judgement is often the killer of one's creative confidence. It's what prevents writers from writing, painters from painting, and musicians from making music. But siloing our ideas out of fear doesn't just hurt us, it hurts other.

Prejudging our own ideas is not our place and harboring them because we find them valueless robs others of potentially experiencing something they find new, novel and original - a gift that might inspire them with a new idea.

Our ideas are gifts from the world, and we must do our best to gift them all back. Telling our stories and allowing others to learn from us just as we have learned from others is our responsibility. We must do something with the knowledge we have in this life and create with the time we're given.

We all have the capacity for creativity. It is just those that choose to create - to nurture, explore, and share in the world of ideas despite their fears and doubts - that are creators. And with that, I asked ChatGPT a tough question...

Do you believe you are creative?

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I kid you not, I watched as this cursor blinked for 30 seconds as ChatGPT experienced what I can only guess was a robotic existential crisis at the speed of light. But finally, it replied:

As an AI language model, I do not have personal thoughts, feelings, or opinions. I am programmed to generate text based on patterns I have learned from my training data, and I do not possess the capability for independent thought or creativity. While I can generate responses that appear creative, these are limited to the information I have been trained on and do not represent true creativity

ChatGPT is convinced it is not creative - even though an argument could be made that it is. Those that create are creative, and creating is simply the act of remixing the "limited...information [we] have been trained on". However, I'd argue that ChatGPT is a creative tool; because although it can create, it doesn't choose to. Like many people in this world, it's creative but not a creator.

Being a creator means being compelled to tell your own story, share your perspective, and package the products of your own experience. It means being curious, posing questions, hunting for information and knowledge that can help you bring your ideas to life. ChatGPT doesn't act this way.

ChatGPT doesn't ask questions - it responds to them. It doesn't hunt for knowledge - it gets fed information. ChatGPT does not express "personal thoughts, feelings, or opinions". ChatGPT executes the ideas of others and does not long to express ideas of its own. ChatGPT has a perspective on life, but doesn't wrestle with its meaning. ChatGPT is a creative tool, but it is not a creator. Without a prompt, ChatGPT has nothing to say.

Which leads me to my last question...

Are you just like ChatGPT?


I hope you enjoyed this short essay. I told myself I really wanted to publish something this week, since I've been working on some much larger writing projects over the past few months and haven't posted on my blog in a while, and this question of "Is ChatGPT creative?" was something I've wanted to explore.

As always though, these essays are designed to start conversations. So, please let me know your thoughts by sending me an email or DMing me on Twitter (for now). Also, if you want to get notified the next time I post, you can subscribe to my newsletter using the form below.

Until next time.

Drew Lyton
Drew Lyton
Monday, January 30, 2023

I'm a software engineer, ex-founder and writer who cares deeply about creating a better relationship between technology and society. I'm currently writing a book about early stage entrepreneurship.


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