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Things we leave behind in the name of modernity – 03/30/2023 – Thaís Nicoleti

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Everyone has heard a writing teacher say that reading is the best way to learn to write. Read, read and read. Not long ago, billions of dollars were spent for an artificial intelligence application to do this homework, apparently so simple and pleasant. As it turns out, it worked. Cease all writing classes, for the ChatGPT is able to produce any type of text, including poetry and movie or TV scripts.

The artificial intelligence application puts the creation of a text within anyone’s reach, replacing sometimes difficult learning with the finished product. In its condition as a robot, ChatGPT “read” billions of texts with the objective of learning to write, something that a human being, taken in its individuality, would not be able to do.

No school environment, the novelty has been causing some apprehension, as the practice of writing texts has been the main means of evaluating students, and university theses, even if they are read by few people, function as a kind of seal of guarantee for the institution, serving as a ballast to the academic title. How to maintain this status in case the robots become the authors (or co-authors) of these works? Well, there are already software capable of detecting the use of artificial intelligence in the elaboration of a text, which allows the student to use a robot to write, and the teacher to use another to recognize the first robot. Everything suggests that there will be room for flaws in this process and for legal disputes about authorship, ideological falsehood, plagiarism and similar issues.

Moreover, instead of making efforts to repress the fraud so generously provided by modern applications, perhaps it would be more useful to reflect on the gains and losses that technological advances bring us and on the way in which this affects (or represents) the world in that we live. It is one thing to delegate to someone else a task that we do not want to carry out, although its execution is within our reach; it is another thing to give up knowledge.

In practice, many students have already lost, for example, the ability to write manually. It is easy to verify this when reading essays from public tenders, entrance exams or the Enem. Teachers who carry out this type of work are often faced not only with almost illegible scrawls but also with a complete lack of knowledge of the principles of syllabic division.

There are reports (many) that even students who write well or reasonably well have no idea what to do when the word needs to be split. They quote Aristotle, but if the name is at the end of the line, it is unceremonious even if the “s” can fall by itself to the bottom line. This was something that was learned in the literacy period and perhaps it is no longer learned. Fact is, when writing on the computer or cell phone, the problem simply doesn’t exist. The same applies to scribbles, whose supposed prestige did not go beyond medical prescriptions, which forced pharmacists to decipher them.

In a well-known text, Umberto Eco lamented the “tragedy” that Italian students (or most of them) had lost the ability to write by hand. According to him, the problem would already be long before the dominance of computers in our lives. Says the author: “My generation was brought up in good handwriting, and we spent the first few months of elementary school learning how to make the strokes of the letters. Afterwards, the exercise became stupid and repressive, but it taught us to keep our wrists steady while we used our pens to form letters that are round and full on one side and thin on the other”.

He refers to the use of the fountain pen, later replaced by the ballpoint pen, and then deals with the stains that both could produce if their handling was not firm and precise. “The art of handwriting teaches us to control our hands and encourages hand-eye coordination,” he says. Nowadays, it is rare to use cursive, and even the signature, which expresses a personal trait, is already being replaced by electronic versions. Calligraphy courses – generally aimed at writing wedding invitations or diplomas – still exist, but as a remnant of other times.

If calligraphy seems useless, what about memory? The school abandoned the exercise of memorization, seen as “stupid and repressive”, if we may borrow Eco’s words. Yes, restricting learning to memorizing facts, dates, poems or multiplication tables does seem silly and would have to be overcome. This does not mean, however, that memory is not valuable, but the truth is that technology has jettisoned it from internet searchers. Just remember a keyword and throw it in the Google (or similar) so that the necessary information is presented before our eyes. The cell phone is our companion even in informal conversations, being a kind of memory that we carry in our pocket. It can be argued that, given the amount of information we receive daily, it would be impossible to retain everything. We retain the minimum.

Now, we are about to abandon our ability to write texts. Artificial intelligence is indeed competent, but its product lacks individuality. Writing then takes on a certain neutrality. It is good to remember that, in the elaboration of ChatGPT, for example, human beings were used to perform the (underpaid) service of tracking speeches considered inappropriate or morally incorrect (racist, prejudiced, xenophobic, instigators of some type of crime, etc.) and remove them from the dataset that constitutes the system’s learning platform. In this way, apparently, the application does not produce so-called “hate speeches”. This, if that sounds good, also reminds us that, behind an artificial intelligence, there are human intelligences making decisions.

This is perhaps not, however, a concern of our time. A supposed consensus around the thesis that it is possible to purify humanity through a kind of linguistic eugenics leads us to naturally accept that literary works from the past, whose authors are dead, can be corrected, with passages suppressed or terms replaced, as happened recently with books by the English Agatha Christiebetween others.

In the last century, which doesn’t seem so far away, the idea of ​​adulterating a work under any pretext would have sounded absurd. Today, the market encourages this, so that the writer’s heirs are the ones most interested in the “correction”. This perhaps shows us that language is failing to express individuality – with its mistakes and successes, with its temporality and its eventual geniuses – to fit into a moral standard.

In view of this, it seems irrelevant to discuss the ethical aspects of using ChatGPT in the preparation of academic papers or of scripts, newspaper news etc. What matters is writing “the right thing” – and technology can help to find not only the ideal form but the right ideas. By giving up the ability to write, which requires training and some work, we also give up our individual expression. It is worth it?

If you want some motivation, then here is your way: Frases Positivas

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