My Answer to the “ChatGPT Isn’t Really Creative” Argument
Read Time: 3 minutes
Created/Updated: January 2, 2023
There’s a river of argument about ChatGPT that goes something like this:
I know GPT can do some cool stuff, but it’s really just a next-word-completion trick. It’s not doing real creativity like humans do.
I get that argument, and it’s attractive to me as well, but I think it’s flawed. Here’s why.
Human brains are just as much of a black box as GPT.
Moment to moment, people have no idea what their brain is doing. Thoughts just pop into our heads continuously. If you’re an “uncreative” person those thoughts are things like,
Crap, I need to get carrots from the grocery store.
And if you’re “creative” the thoughts are like,
Wow, I just had an idea for a cool beat.
I just had some clarity on this character I’m working on for this novel…
But where did that creativity come from? With your brain it came from a soup of genetics and environment, mixed together with time, to create your own personal version of GPT that runs continuously.
Do you have control over what you find attractive? If you prefer tall men with dark hair, are you in control or is your brain in control? You don’t decide who you’re attracted to. You don’t decide your personality. You don’t decide your preferences.
And you don’t decide your creativity either. It comes, or it doesn’t. And you don’t know its contents. You have no idea what sort of ideas it’s about to produce for you. You’re often as surprised as anyone.
Searching for the Ultimate Obstacle to Creativity
So how is that different from GPT? A couple weeks ago I was trying to convince a friend that GPT was doing true creativity, and I came up with a challenge to prove my point.
Write a Bob Dylan song about the love between Luke and Leia.
Here’s what it produced in the time it takes a human to dry their hands after washing.
GPT writing a Dylan love song about Luke’s love for Leia
Notice I didn’t say anything about “forbidden” love. Or even their last names. It just knew what I was talking about. And it used the general structure of a lot of Dylan songs to do it.
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Even though they were siblings by blood, Their love was pure and true, They stood by each other through thick and thin, Their love would always come shining through.
I think the lyrics were a bit too direct and shallow to perfectly capture Dylan, for the record.
Siblings by blood? I didn’t even mention that in the prompt! In order to do this, GPT had to know about forbidden love, incest, and Star Wars—all at the same time. Plus a song structure for Bob Dylan.
That’s creativity by any measure I can imagine.
And that brings us to the point I think needs to be made. Or the question that needs to be asked.
Is creativity a human process of struggle and waiting for inspiration from our black box of a human brain, or is it creative output?
If you define creativity as a human thing based on human experience, that’s fine. But then you’re playing the same game we’ve been playing with AI. It’s not “real” AI if a machine can do it, right?
My Current Predictions for Thinking Machines
Beating Kasparov at chess? Bah! That’s just Chess. But they forget that Chess was also in the human-only category a day before it happened. So the bar keeps raising the more that AI does.
Too many people define AI in terms that constantly move and can never be achieved.
It’s the same with creativity. The only way to make it a purely human thing is to define it so narrowly as being created by humans alone using only their own faculties. If you define it as the ability to produce creative output, by any other standard, then GPT is producing “real” creativity.
Feel free to disagree, but anything that can write a love song in less than 10 seconds is a creative marvel. And anything that can write a love song that includes the forbidden concept of incest, based on two fictional first names alone, using the style of an actual songwriter, and do it 10 seconds, is a — creative miracle.
Written By Daniel Miessler in Creativity
Daniel Miessler is a cybersecurity leader, writer, and founder of Unsupervised Learning. He writes about security, tech, and society and has been featured in the New York Times, WSJ, and the BBC.