AI Writing

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PG got to feeling a bit better as the day commenced and decided to try Microsoft’s browser, Edge, with Microsoft’s version of AI included.

PG’s prompt was as follows:

synopsis of Pride and Prejudice, including issues of class

Here’s what MS AI produced (with paragraph breaks inserted by PG):

Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen that explores the complex social relations among the landed gentry in early 19th-century England. The main plot revolves around the romance between Elizabeth Bennet, a spirited and intelligent young woman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a wealthy and proud aristocrat who initially disdains Elizabeth and her family.

Through a series of misunderstandings, misjudgments, and revelations, Elizabeth and Darcy overcome their pride and prejudice and eventually acknowledge their mutual love and respect. Along the way, they also confront the obstacles posed by their different social positions, as well as the interference of their families and friends.

The novel also depicts the lives and marriages of Elizabeth’s four sisters, Jane, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, who each face their own challenges in finding happiness and security in a society that values wealth, rank, and propriety over character, affection, and individuality.

PG then asked MS AI to add more details to the plot and this is what happened (with PG’s manually-inserted paragraph breaks):

Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen that explores the complex social relations among the landed gentry in early 19th-century England.

The main plot revolves around the romance between Elizabeth Bennet, a spirited and intelligent young woman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a wealthy and proud aristocrat who initially disdains Elizabeth and her family. Elizabeth meets Darcy at a ball where he snubs her, while his friend Bingley is smitten with her sister Jane. Elizabeth is further prejudiced against Darcy when she hears from Wickham, a charming officer, that Darcy cheated him out of his inheritance.

Darcy, however, gradually falls in love with Elizabeth’s wit and beauty, and surprises her with a proposal of marriage, which she rejects, accusing him of separating Bingley and Jane, and mistreating Wickham.

Darcy then writes a letter to Elizabeth, explaining his actions and revealing Wickham’s true character. Elizabeth realizes that she has been too hasty and prideful in her judgments, and begins to admire Darcy’s sense of honor and generosity.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia, are dazzled by the militia officers stationed in their town, especially by Wickham, who elopes with Lydia, putting the Bennet family’s reputation at risk. Darcy secretly intervenes to find the couple and force Wickham to marry Lydia, thus saving the Bennets from disgrace.

Elizabeth learns of Darcy’s involvement from his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who visits Longbourn to dissuade Elizabeth from marrying Darcy, as she has planned a match between him and her own daughter. Elizabeth refuses to comply, and asserts her equal worth and right to love whom she chooses.

Darcy is delighted by Elizabeth’s spirited defense of their relationship, and renews his proposal, which she accepts with joy. Jane and Bingley also reunite and marry, and the novel ends with a happy resolution for the two couples who have overcome their pride and prejudice.

Then PG asked the AI to include more about the social consequences of Lydia’s elopement and added paragraph breaks.

Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen that explores the complex social relations among the landed gentry in early 19th-century England. The main plot revolves around the romance between Elizabeth Bennet, a spirited and intelligent young woman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a wealthy and proud aristocrat who initially disdains Elizabeth and her family. Elizabeth meets Darcy at a ball where he snubs her, while his friend Bingley is smitten with her sister Jane. Elizabeth is further prejudiced against Darcy when she hears from Wickham, a charming officer, that Darcy cheated him out of his inheritance.

Darcy, however, gradually falls in love with Elizabeth’s wit and beauty, and surprises her with a proposal of marriage, which she rejects, accusing him of separating Bingley and Jane, and mistreating Wickham. Darcy then writes a letter to Elizabeth, explaining his actions and revealing Wickham’s true character. Elizabeth realizes that she has been too hasty and prideful in her judgments, and begins to admire Darcy’s sense of honor and generosity.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia, are dazzled by the militia officers stationed in their town, especially by Wickham, who elopes with Lydia, putting the Bennet family’s reputation at risk.

Lydia’s elopement is a major crisis in the novel, as it threatens to ruin not only her own prospects of marriage, but also those of her sisters. In the society of that time, living together without marriage was considered a scandalous and disgraceful act that would result in social ostracism and loss of respectability. Lydia’s behavior also reflects poorly on her parents’ upbringing and exposes their lack of discipline and boundaries.

Lydia herself is oblivious to the consequences of her actions, and thinks only of her own importance and pleasure. She does not care about the feelings or opinions of her family or friends, nor does she show any gratitude or remorse for the trouble she has caused.

Darcy secretly intervenes to find the couple and force Wickham to marry Lydia, thus saving the Bennets from disgrace. Elizabeth learns of Darcy’s involvement from his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who visits Longbourn to dissuade Elizabeth from marrying Darcy, as she has planned a match between him and her own daughter.

Elizabeth refuses to comply, and asserts her equal worth and right to love whom she chooses. Darcy is delighted by Elizabeth’s spirited defense of their relationship, and renews his proposal, which she accepts with joy. Jane and Bingley also reunite and marry, and the novel ends with a happy resolution for the two couples who have overcome their pride and prejudice.

PG thinks that, while he wouldn’t recommend the current iteration of Bing AI writing for a Ph.D. thesis, it would be a big help for a lot of middle and high school students.

This does raise interesting plagiarism and honesty issues regarding schoolwork produced by Bing. PG wonders whether using the Bing AI for a first draft, then making significant student-created modifications and additions to that draft before turning in the final paper.

PG was going to run the Bing AI output through Grammarly, which is also advertising AI features, but ran out of time and energy.

He does wonder what the problem is with Microsoft’s AI entering paragraph breaks in its output, however.

25 thoughts on “AI Writing”

  1. I did an AI search on my own books, and recognized almost all the sources of the material. There wasn’t much online, and so it only had so much to say, but even in that little there were “lies and hallucinations”.

  2. First thought: P&P is the low hanging fruit for AI. A gazillion words have been written about it, giving the LLM ample training material. I wonder how it would have done with even another of Austen’s novels, much less a less popular author.

    Second thought: Even at the low hanging fruit level, the result is not great. Lydia’s problem was not that society did not value character, and Mr. Darcy did not force Mr. Wickham to marry her. It was simple financial inducement.

    As for the pedagogic challenge, I have two thoughts. This sort of assignment is generally given in part as a training exercise in how to write a coherent paper. That part is probably obsolete, with the coherent prose produced automatically in much the same way that we automate routine arithmetic. There is value in both cases in learning the principles, but beyond that it is assumed that of course a student will use a calculator. So don’t obsess on whether the student has used ChatGPT. Assume that of course they will, like any other tool. This will raise the grading bar. Right now, a paper that successfully combines sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into a paper will rate a gentleman’s B- (which really should be a C) even if it doesn’t actually say much of anything. Those days should be passed, just as we wouldn’t give credit to a botched calculus exam because the arithmetic was done right, regardless of how it was put together.

    Next, teachers will have to mix up their assignments. Don’t assign Pride and Prejudice. At the very least, skip down to Northanger Abbey. Better yet, assign some other author. Not Charles Dickens, but perhaps Wilkie Collins. Or if you must assign a warhorse, use some imagination in the specific assignment, rather than a generic “write about this book.”

    • Jane Austen is pretty well known.
      But others?
      Say, F.M Busby?
      (Who that, right?)

      Well, I asked BingChat to summarize Busby’s RISSA KERGUELEN.

      This came back:

      Sure, I can try to summarize F.M. Busby’s Rissa Kerguelen for you. Here is what I found:

      Rissa Kerguelen is a science fiction novel by F.M. Busby, published in 1976. It is the first book in the saga of Rissa, a young woman who inherits a powerful business empire in a dystopian future where Earth is ruled by a tyrannical corporation called United Energy and Transport (UET). Rissa escapes from UET’s clutches and joins a rebel group called the Zelde M’Tana, who are fighting for freedom and justice in the galaxy. Along the way, she discovers her own abilities and destiny, and falls in love with Bran Tregare, the leader of the Zelde M’Tana. The novel follows Rissa’s adventures and challenges as she tries to evade UET’s agents, help the rebels, and reclaim her inheritance.

      I hope this summary helps you get an idea of what the book is about. If you want to read more, you can find it on Amazon1 or Goodreads2. Have a nice day!

      Slightly off.
      Zelde M’Tana is simply one of the rebel characters. (Oops!)
      Bran Tregare is the tactical leader of the rebellion and Rissa rose to be his strategic aide, not just his lover. One might argue he is her sidekick. (She turns out to be a eugenic genius.)
      Rissa inheriting a vast economic establishment is only revealed in the third volume along with her genetic heritage.

      But it does highlight the core of the series.
      And it does point the interrogator to right book page.

      • I read that not long after it came out, but not since. I remembered the dystopian beginning and the escape, but that is it. I wondered if this was just a spitting back of the Amazon blurb or the like, but is not. A quick check did not turn up any obvious source. So for what it is worth, the AI seems to have gone out there and found material on this, a not-prominent work, and produced a coherent, if not entirely accurate, paragraph. Does this rate that gentleman’s B-?

        • Probably.
          It did do *some* work.

          Rissa Kerguelen (in the original omnibus I got) is actually a very good novel. Very Dickensian, actually. Also quite a bit of MONTECHRISTO in it. It loses a bit in the three volume split because their isn’t enough of a character arc in the three volumes, only in the aggregate.
          It was good enough to spawn prequels, sequels and a “side-quel”. 😉

          You might want to revisit.
          Some of the social elements of his dystopia are popping up all around us.
          The part that always stuck with me was the pretend doll.

          He is a perfect example why I prefer SF over all other genres. Not a name or anything like it but his books always took me places and showed me parts of human nature you rarely see in other genres. His books are always about *something*.

      • Well, it did the job of getting me to look into this Rissa series. Figuring out the titles was a bit confusing, since different names are used in different editions. From what this guy says, the omnibus you read may have been called “Rissa Kerguelen” and had two books in it? As opposed to the first standalone, also called Rissa Kerguelen. My goodness, did his publishers hate Busby? They did him dirty with that. Or maybe pre-Google no one would have been confused?

        Only “Young Rissa” and “Rissa and Tregare” are available on Kindle, but not “The Long View” or the rest of them. Every so often I wonder, “How does one get into the reprint game?” But until I figure that out, I’m going to have to see if I can find these at my local libraries.

        • Okay, the original omnibus edition I have includes all three: YOUNG RISSA, RISSA AND TREGARE, and THE LONG VIEW.
          This is the cover:

          https://i.pinimg.com/originals/54/82/67/548267cdd72c48f16d4c2825e95fa8c3.png

          ZELDE M’TANA is the side story of that character.
          The Star Rebel (1984) and Rebel’s Quest (1984) are Tregare’s prequels and
          The Alien Debt (1984) and Rebel’s Seed (1986) are the sequels.
          All have been packaged in many ways.

          And to add to the fun, I just learned there is a much newer addition, RENALLE KERGUELLEN (2015) listed as a followup to THE LONG VIEW. And that is listed as KINDLE only. Need to look into it: something’s up.

          As for the other volumes, look into UK sources. Some SF titles are in ebook form there and not in the US.

          Or ABEbooks. The have it for $2.50 (yay!) plust $4.50 shipping. (sigh) Other entries are higher. And you should see the pricing Busby’s THE DEMU TRILOGYand AL THESE EARTHS.

          Failing that, there are “unofficial” editions torrenting all over and in USENET.
          Me, since I have the original omnibus and I got tired of waiting for somebody to take my money, I scanned and OCR’ed it for myself. Actions breed reactions and, to be blunt, those torrents exist for many reasons. Yet rarely do they feature BAEN titles. Mental floss had a piece on that in 2010.

          There are ways.

          And yes, tradpub hates writers. Money they love, in bulk, but not midlisters.

          • Thanks for the pointers. And that’s interesting that USENET is still around. I always heard of it, but never guessed it was still up and functional. I wouldn’t “pirate” a living author, but as Busby is dead (which is probably why his work is barely in Kindle), no harm no foul.

            • And whoever controls the copyright isn’t doing a good job of monetizing it. In the software world there is the concept of abandonware for software from defunct sources that, while technically controlled by somebody somewhere, just… floats around…

              https://www.howtogeek.com/829307/what-is-abandonware-and-is-it-legal/

              One of the glitches of copyright is that unlike trademark it has no requirement of defense, much less use. Trademark you use or lose but copyright no longer has a sunset/renewal provision and is effectively eternal in some ways, like with software: long before the copyright expires on even the oldest software there won’t be anyplace to use it.

            • As to USENET:

              https://www.techradar.com/best/best-usenet-providers

              It’s not always free to access but then there is no need for dedicated clients as most operators have web-facing servers.

              I haven’t strolled the alt-bin neighborhood in ages so I have no idea how it’s evolved, how binaries are encoded or if they still do grab-bag catch as catch can floods. It used to be…interesting to download a “big” multimegabyte file, decrypt it, and find something useful or nothing. Sheer randomness.

              In its time it was the only way other than rolling your own to get digital versions of one’s vintage print favorites. Still not perfect but getting better.

                • Would be surprised if there *wasn’t*.
                  Or a comparable group for images and videos. Especially deepfakes.

                  Erotica is always one of the first uses for any new tech. Did wonders for home video way back when.

                  Usenet is a free fire zone.
                  In fact, the linked article points out that the paid usenet services come with zero log VPNs. Much like AOL back in the day, the providers can credibly claim the Schultz defense: “I see nofink, I hear nofink…” 😀

    • They also got wrong that the book in no way explore’s Mary’s troubles, if she actually thinks she has any (other than being the only plain sister). Even Kitty doesn’t technically have any, save that she’s dominated by the younger Lydia.

      But yes, the teachers are going to have to put more effort into their assignments. Which will be good for them, and their students both. However, all of the authors you mention have had TV / big screen adaptations, so that would still provide sufficient material for an AI. But I don’t think anyone’s televised Ann Radcliffe in recent decades. Which reminds me to check if she’s on Kindle yet; the dead tree versions of her books are sitting in a box in my closet because the print is murderously small.

      The teachers are really going to have to bring their A games.

  3. The phrase that leaps out at me is “Elizabeth learns of Darcy’s involvement from his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh”.

    No! No! No! No! No! While Lady Catherine is aware of Lydia’s “infamous elopement”, she considers this to be an excellent reason for Darcy to have nothing whatsoever to do with the Bennets, and has no idea what Darcy has done to solve the problem. In actual fact it is Lydia herself who first spills the beans, and Elizabeth is forced to write to her aunt (not his, hers) to obtain the full story.

    I would suggest that anyone who submitted the text as quoted above without alteration is going to fall foul of anyone who is familiar with the book – and english teachers should be assumed to be so with regards to the subjects of such essays. PG’s suggestion that the results need significant modifications before submission is a reasonable conclusion.

  4. One wonders whether this sort of thing is focused on the “passing grade” or the “satisfactory learning experience.” It’s one thing to come up with a canned analysis of Pride and Prejudice; it’s quite another to actually understand Persuasion for oneself, let alone Vanity Fair. No matter what grade one was awarded.

    • True, but the thing is… some kids will never care enough to become educated in that fashion (regardless of the grading structure). So the choice becomes…better to give them a superficial acquaintance with the background of the culture they live in or give up?

      I remember tutoring classmates for geometry in Middle School, knowing they would never ever use it (and decades later, they never did). You can’t make the light go on by itself, but the trial in any form has its own value.

      At least they will have heard of Jane Austen and formed some impression of domestic life in a different century and place. Sometimes that’s the best you can give them. You pour in what you can and hope something sparks.

      • True. I was thinking of how a teacher might combat this AI, but then it occurred to me that the methods I would use would work better for AP students (advanced placement, where you get college credit in high school).

        But just as I would have been the student who would never, ever need the geometry you might teach, there would correspondingly be students who would never need an in-depth understanding of Austen.

        I have thoughts about Mr. Bennett, and how badly he failed his daughters (especially Lydia), but it’s material that would go down better with the students who felt the “spark.”

        I strongly agree that the other kids should be exposed, though. There’s value in a common culture, and there’s value in everyone being able to say “I understood that reference.” I once had a coworker who needed me to explain a line from “Boyz in the Hood”: “I’m like Samson, my strength is in my hair.” It’s hard to write stories for an audience that lacks a common cultural framework.

      • My point, in case it wasn’t clear enough by referring to a novel written three quarters of a century after Austen’s death, is that it’s the method of analysis that matters — not the fact of “knowing” Austen, but the ability to use that “knowing” of Austen to help understand something else (like, say — dubiously and insidiously inspired by Felix’s comment below — science fictional adaptations of/inspired by works that flow from/through Austen).

        Even moreso, understanding why later adaptations of/inspired by works are bad (almost all of them are) — or on occasion good — and/or completely outside of one’s taste and preferences is not something one is going to get from a ChatGPT analysis of Pride and Prejudice while pondering whether to see Clueless. It’s not going to help one understanding the flaws in Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (and the even worse ones in the justly-forgotten film version) in its derivation from a certain Shakespeare play… or accurately identify both that play and the other, contemporaneous work that Smiley drew upon.

        This is the problem with emphasizing “educational metrics” instead of “education.” But that’s just slightly off topic…

        • Not too far, though.
          It points at the use of calculators in class and the unavoidable uses of LLMs in education.
          It is about teaching familiarity with the underpinings of society to be able to navigate it. About teaching critical thinking vs teaching axiomatic facts and teaching to the test. Narrow focus vs a rounded education. Which brings about the matter of understanding algebra even if you never have to solve an equation in the real world.

          Right now there is a debate aboutCalifornia (where else?) school systems eliminating algebra from HS curricula (echoing the infamous Barbie doll “Math is hard”) in favor of “DATA SCIENCE”.
          (Spreadsheets, apparently.)

          https://www.educationnext.org/california-moves-to-replace-math-with-data-science-in-the-name-of-equity-and-inclusion/

          I’m keeping an eye on that debate.

          • Felix, I still have and still know how to use a slide rule, both the traditional stick-style and the circular style (for hanging on a lanyard around the neck) used in navigation. And nobody had to worry much about misusing calculators on exams because “calculators” didn’t have a pi key or logarithm function yet… unless they cost in four figures in 1972 constant Whip Inflation Now! dollars.

            And they didn’t/don’t stand up too well in a chemistry lab anyway.

            • On the day job, shortly after starting I inherited one of each from a retiring precursor.
              (Also a not-very-politically-correct drafting curve. Remnants of a different age.)

              And I was lucky enough that my high school *physics* teacher insisted we all know how to use slide rules as a way to internalize logarithms and orders of magnitude. Mission accomplished.

              (He had an 8-footer hanging above the chalkboard. We all got to play with it in class.)

        • ” understanding why later adaptations of/inspired by works are bad (almost all of them are)”

          Maybe I shouldn’t complain about unoriginal works/pastiches/hot messes that are not canon – after all, some people get great pleasure from watching a particular actor not represent a particular historical or fictional character – and their money is as good as mine and much more likely to be spent on their hobby.

          “The originator is no longer with us, so he/she cannot make more product and it was old-fashioned anyway” – along with the knowledge that copyright was limited ON PURPOSE to ENCOURAGE producers (of useful goods for civilization, not necessarily, but okay, fine, if that’s what you want) of books, too.

          There are parties in certain communities when another beloved book moves into the commons, and can be plundered. Cheaper than commissioning original work from artists, with some vague name recognition still attached. Who could want for more?

          At least the originals are usually still available for those who care and make the effort.

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