ChatGPT and me

Recently I was hired to write a 200-word article based on an 800-word press release about a new coffee shop. I finished and turned it in, then it hit me: It’s just a matter of time before the client who hired me realizes AI programs can write these things for free.

To size up my competition, I pasted the original press release into ChatGPT and asked it to create its own 200-word article, then I compared our work.

ChatGPT bases its writing on lots and lots of online documents and databases, guessing what word should come next based on the words all those other articles used next. The result is a very slick, polished voice, along with a ton of cliches and empty sentences. But ChatGPT’s biggest weakness is that it has no idea what interests humans. What’s more, it doesn’t understand what words mean.

Compare our leads (note: I’ve changed some names and details because my work-for-hire doesn’t belong to me). ChatGPT’s opening sentence: “Caffe Maximo, the brainchild of industry veterans John Doe and Jack Jones, has unveiled its newest jewel in the crown — a bright and modern coffee haven nestled in Redondo Beach.”

A coffee shop is a “brainchild”? That’s a bit of a stretch. “Brainchild” usually means something that arose from an innovative idea, and I’m pretty sure these guys didn’t invent coffee shops. Also: “jewel in the crown”? That cliché only works when the reader knows what “crown” you’re talking about. Then there’s “a coffee haven,” which is odd, and “nestled,” which is shopworn and at the same time not quite accurate.

Here’s my first sentence: “Redondo Beach is finally getting a taste of the ‘farm-to-you’ coffee beloved by L.A.’s most discriminating chefs and connoisseurs.” My thinking here, as a human being, is that when a truly high-end coffee joint comes to town, readers care more about the coffee than, say, “unveiling a jewel in a crown.”

Because here’s what you wouldn’t know from reading ChatGPT’s version: This coffee brand is among the best — a Michelin-starred chef serves it in his restaurants, as do a number of other chichi California eateries. But ChatGPT never mentions this coffee brand’s impressive bona fides. You can read more about how I measured up to ChatGPT in my recent column.

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