Now That The End Is Here

by Mike Bendzela

While changing keys during a recent old time jam session, a friend asked for my thoughts about this new ChatGPT thing, seeing as I teach writing to college students and the fear is that this text-generating gadget will disrupt how such courses are taught. I had to answer that I did not have any thoughts about it, because I was assured early on, AI is coming and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it! Thus, safely relieved of the burden of having to dwell on the inevitable, I have chosen to ignore it instead. As a famous Republican once said, “Why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?” Besides, I am an adjunct and not paid to worry about pedagogy. I can worry about more important things, such as the low tire pressure light that will not go off on my dashboard. How to deal with techno tyranny with aplomb is something I can put off. I will be retiring in a few short years anyhow.

This friend* who asked me about ChatGPT technology seemed about as ignorant in it as I am: “Do you know how it works?”

He was trying to tune his banjo. This could take a while, and I was afraid I would have to . . . chat about ChatGPT in the meantime.

“I believe it is a machine that produces text,” I said.

“You mean like a typewriter?”

“Not exactly. A typewriter with half a brain, perhaps.”

“Aren’t you concerned that your students will cheat?”

“Not really.”

“What? You don’t care that they might cheat?”

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to correct shitty papers for hours on end?”

Perhaps AI will ensure that we are all mollified. I am secretly awaiting the other GPT shoe to drop: Given the tsunami of error-less, “competent,” synthetic student writing to come, one can only hope for the complementary technology to arrive, messiah-like, and quickly–that is, vast sets of synthetic, bot eyes to read the endless output of assignments. Maybe they could call it SlogGPT. The thought of yet more machines being invented to read and grade machine-produced college prose tickles me to death. Alas, I would have to find another job with health insurance, until I qualify for Medicare.

My friend stared for a while at the digital readout of his clip-on instrument tuner. “I remember how awful I felt relying on Cliffs Notes when I was in school,” he said.

There was enough laziness, dishonesty, ignorance, and plain malignity on campus, even back when I was in college, that Cliffs Notes always flew off the shelves at the bookstore. So, we can be certain of sea-changes with these newer technologies–because malignity increases exponentially with computer speed, because “there is absolutely nothing you can do about it,” and because we seem to have more money, materials, and fuel than brains.

My friend continued, “Now they can just punch in an order for the paper they want, and out it comes, right out of the printer.”

God, I don’t want to talk about this, I thought. I was working loose one of the pegs on my fiddle to tune up.

“Hey, let me tell you what I did recently,” I said. My friend stopped pinging on his fifth string long enough to listen. “I have successfully trained my dog to set the kitchen table!”

“What the–!” He performed a downward brush stroke with his fingernail on the banjo. It still sounded like hell.

I told him about Jot, a Labradoodle, who was so pliable I could get him to do anything I wanted. It had taken a while, but I got Jot to climb up on the counters, take plates in his jaws–one by one–and bring them to the table. He learned to settle them in place before each chair, even making sure the design on the transferware plate was right side up for the diner to see. He then brought knives, forks, and spoons to the table and made proper settings with them–fork left, knife-spoon right. Jot’s napkin folding was . . . interesting, but his sense of proportion and tidiness were astonishing.

Frantically wiggling a tuning peg, my friend said, “Man! I’d like to see that.”

“Oh, that’s just the beginning. He can also do the dishes afterward. I’m working on getting him to make my bed and clean the toilet. And I don’t have to take him outside for a crap!”

“Amazing! How did you manage that?”

“Well, here’s the most interesting part. . . . Jot is a robot.”

My friend ceased all attempts to tune his banjo and just looked at me.

“I made him myself. I took apart my HVAC system, my dishwasher, my computer, my microwave oven, my washer and dryer, and recombined the parts to form Jot the Labradoodle, Housekeeper.”

“That’s cool”–my friend ducked under his banjo strap and clamped a capo to the second fret–“but why?”

“Why? Isn’t it enough that I’ve impressed you?”

“Impressed? Sounds like a frickin’ waste of time to me. Oh well . . . if you’ve got the time, it’s yours to waste, I guess.”

Chalk up one for the banjo player, for a change.

*I hope it is abundantly clear that “friend” is a non-computer-generated literary device.



“Typewriter” by sarmoung is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.