Literature professor Marcello Vitali-Rosati has some thoughts on the question.
“Montreal’s winter unfolds in gentle light / A city hushed beneath a quilt of white / Silent streets adorned with a soft glow / Beauty whispered in the winter’s quiet snow.”
This short poem about winter in Montreal wasn’t written by a human being, but by ChatGPT— and it took less than a second. It’s proof the Open AI chatbot is capable of producing creative texts similar to those written by people.
So with ChatGPT’s computing power increasing by the day, should we be worried? Could ChatGPT one day replace humans in the creative professions? Are sentient beings the only ones capable of creativity?
We put these questions to philosopher Marcello Vitali-Rosati, a professor in Université de Montréal’s Department of French-language Literatures and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Digital Textualities.
Passing the Turing test
If we define creativity as the ability to generate something new, then ChatGPT is clearly creative. It’s probabilistic text-generation model enables it to come up with new word combinations and thus create original text.
“Large language models like ChatGPT are algorithms that demonstrate creativity insofar as they’re not limited to producing pre-existing combinations of words,” explained Vitali-Rosati.
ChatGPT has passed the Turing test, also known as the “imitation game,” and is able to engage in natural-sounding conversations with humans. In short, it can virtually pass as a human. ChatGPT’s ability to reproduce different writing styles is part and parcel of its probabilistic word-joining strategies.
A claim to dominance
According to Vitali-Rosati, the fact that we are even asking whether ChatGPT can be creative shows the depth of our desire to find uniquely human traits to justify our claim to dominance.
“The concept of originality is often used in this way—for example, to distinguish the high-level work of the creative professions from humbler occupations,” he said. “Placing so much importance on creativity is a way of structuring social hierarchies.”
Instead of asking whether ChatGPT is creative, Vitali-Rosati believes we should be asking why we are so intent on seeing humans as unique because of their creativity.
“Humans take a narcissistic stance that posits their supremacy over all other beings,” he argued. “But is creativity really a quality that defines us as human? In war, creativity—the ability to come up with innovative variations on a given model—is often used to vanquish our enemies. But does this exemplify our humanity?”
A sameness of discourse
Whose voice is ChatGPT giving us? Does the technology produce a sameness of discourse informed by the money behind it?
Developing large language models such as ChatGPT requires enormous computing power and financial resources, something that few companies in the world possess. This limits the competition to other wealthy corporations. Without these means at their disposal, how can more dissonant voices be heard?
“Is it possible to add sources and perspectives other than those of ‘white males’?” asked Vitali-Rosati. “Are there other ways to be creative?”
The end of sole authorship?
Does ChatGPT herald the end of texts written by a single author? Well, said Vitali-Rosati, it's debateable whether works ever really been produced by a single author. Indeed, can a text be made by one person alone?
“This idea of writers applying their genius to create a work of art out of nothing is an abstract construct,” Vitali-Rosati suggested.
Before a text is published, he noted, many people have worked on it behind the scenes, such as editors and proofreaders. The author has also used many tools, such as spellcheckers.
“The author is a discursive creation,” said Vitali-Rosati.
“We have imagined an entity that produces meaning on its own. But authorship was created for economic reasons to support the publishing houses’ business model in the age of the printing press. Its raison d’être is economic, not ethical or moral. Genius is a concept that publishers use to sell books."