The Difference between AI Writing and Human Writing (A Demonstration with IGCSE English)
Now, there’s been a ton of drama recently about AI-driven writing. Influencer after influencer tells you that you can write blog posts and marketing copy and earn infinite amounts of money, telling you that lo and behold, the rapture is here and your AI overlords will now take you to an infinite space of profound wealth!
…But is it true though?
Totally reasonable to believe (because enough people are easily over-hyped and frankly, even if you don’t think you are subject to hype, you probably are)… But in my opinion inaccurate.
It’s true that AI can generate a lot of different articles and types of materials very, very quickly. That’s the whole idea behind my online course. (Welcome to this site if you’ve just found it, students!)
If you think that AI writing is going to replace human writing entirely though, I have an unfortunate truth for you though:
You’re probably not a very good writer.
Sorry to say that, but it’s probably true and that’s absolutely what I believe.
As I said in the previous post, I’m entirely prepared to eat my own words at a later point when our AI overlords become sufficiently advanced that they catch me in a prison of some sort or full-on write novels with incredible twists and planning with no prompting other than “Please write me a novel that will get to the New York Times Bestseller list and grant me a lifetime of drinking pina coladas in Uruguay”, but uh… I’m not convinced that that point is now.
That’s why in this post, we’re going to compare the process of writing an IGCSE English essay from two different perspectives: AI, and from a human perspective.
First of all though, some context:
I teach IGCSE English essay classes (and also IB English x Theory of Knowledge, A Levels, and IELTS classes) as part of my work with Ascendant Academy, and it’s a joy of a subject to teach because it unites two of my dearest passions – education and writing – into a single learning experience that I find tremendously valuable.
Second of all, here’s the context: This is a question from the Winter 2019 Question Paper 3 IGCSE English Language 0500 exam, and I was providing a live-writing exercise with one of my students, whereby I generated an essay in about 20 minutes without stopping (I might screen record one of these if I get permission one day).
First of all, let’s talk about how I tried to do this with AI, specifically by logging in to ChatGPT with my OpenAI account and trying to get the universe’s favorite chatbot to give me what I wanted.
First, I tried to do this vanilla.
That was too short, so I figured that I should give ChatGPT a bit more context.
…Well, clearly that didn’t work. It gave me… A movie review?! It was time for more prompt engineering.
Okay, now we were getting somewhere.
The issue with this though, was that it was giving me a movie review and this was not something that I was vibing with, so I had to make some other adjustments. The result? I did a little bit more prompting based on the discussion that we had during the course of the lesson, during which I decided to write the essay about the experience of an unnamed scuba diver and his friend Jessica as they discovered a ship.
Here was the result:
Okay, this wasn’t bad!
…Did it mean that it was good, though? I wanted to know, so in the grand finale, I asked the AI for one final thing – to convert the entire thing into the same perspective that I used during my live-writing.
Here’s the result.
2 (a) Write a description with the title, ‘Underwater’. – Written by ChatGPT.
[Prompt]: Do that again, but this time write the description in first person perspective.
My Journey to Discover the Sunken Ship “The Indomitable”
As I descended into the depths of the ocean with my friend Jessica, I was transported to a world of stunning beauty and mystery. Schools of colorful fish swam by, while larger creatures glided gracefully through the water. However, the real treasure of our dive lay ahead – the sunken ship, “The Indomitable.”
The experience of diving into the underwater world was both exhilarating and surreal. With every passing moment, the world above grew more distant, and the world below came into sharper focus. The water shimmered, creating an ethereal aura, and the pressure change added to the sense of adventure.
As we approached the ship, our excitement grew. We were about to uncover the secrets of “The Indomitable,” a ship that had been lost for many years. The ship’s remains were covered in a layer of sea creatures and marine plants, creating a unique and beautiful sight. We explored the ship’s interior, discovering artifacts and uncovering the story of its final voyage.
However, our dive was not without its challenges. Visibility was limited, and we had to navigate through the tight and dark spaces of the ship with care. The danger of the unknown added to the thrill of the experience, but it also required us to be cautious and aware of our surroundings at all times.
In the end, our dive was a success. Jessica and I returned to the surface, exhilarated by our adventure and with a newfound appreciation for the underwater world. We left “The Indomitable” with memories that will last a lifetime, and with a newfound respect for the power and beauty of the ocean.
In conclusion, exploring the underwater world is a journey of discovery and adventure. Whether you are a seasoned diver or a newcomer, the experience of discovering a sunken ship like “The Indomitable” is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, grab your gear and dive into the unknown, and uncover the secrets that lie beneath the surface of the water.
2 (a) Write a description with the title, ‘Underwater’. – Written by Victor Tan.
The sound of Jessica falling into the water is a little less loud than I had imagined, considering that she was wearing a 30kg scuba tank and full waterproof gear. After a minute of trying to calm myself and failing, I join her in the water, falling in ungracefully with my fins over my head, eyes closed, feeling the cold rush of water: I am now underwater.
At first, I can see nothing, but it takes just a brief moment for my vision to resolve as I witness a side of the world that I had only seen in novels and Netflix shows. The water is a clear and pristine blue, almost like the color of sapphires polished to a brilliant gleam, and inside it I see an entire community – colorful fish swim and dance in complex arrangements, moving as if they are acrobats in the Cirque du Soleil around my awkward movements, as I try to adjust myself in a space that my body has precious few adaptations towards.
Below me, craggy gray rocks stretch out a canvas that extends into a deep and blue horizon down below, and as I move through the waters, I see that ahead of me, there is a darkness below – it is much deeper than I had imagined, and as I am thinking of what it would be like to visit, I feel a shaking on my left arm; it is Jessica signaling to me.
She waves her arm in the water, pointing downwards, as bubbles stream through her mask and she begins to swim. Realizing that I will be left behind unless I follow suit, I quickly begin moving along with her as we course through the water, navigating this strange and beautiful underwater paradise together.
As we swim through the waters, the fish seem to either be celebrating our journey or mocking us, dancing around us at a speed that I could barely fathom; just before I finish my thought about how people can actually catch these creatures for a living, though, I see the sea turtle resting just above the pink coral formation that rests just at the base of one of the rocks, and as it moves away, perhaps having detected us, there I see the entirety of the coral formation – gigantic, almost as if it is a tremendous, crystalline tree that has ascended from the bottom of the sea floor.
We begin to move through it as we descend deeper, flashing our submersion-grade torchlights into the sea as the light bounces off the corals, subtly illuminating them in shades of pink as we make our journey even deeper as we pass by even more fish, abalone, and other strange creatures that I remind myself to read about in a Buzzfeed article when I get back to the surface.
Just then, however, a clearing appears in the coral, and I bump into Jessica, who has stopped abruptly and turns to me with an excited expression through her mask.
When I look where she is pointing, I see the ship.
It is grand, it is imposing, it is far larger than I ever imagined that a ship could be – a gigantic, hulking mass of rotting wood that sticks out of the rocky crevasse that it lies above, like a massive nail in the middle of a woodboard. As I look closer, I see the tattered sail flashing the remnants of a name for the ship:
I guess that this ship was called “The Indomitable” at some point, but it certainly doesn’t look that way now, as seaweed seems to surround and entangle it, almost as if trying to reclaim one of the ocean’s wayward children back into her eternal embrace, mocking the name that the ship was called.
Perhaps there is treasure here?
…Says my instinct, and it’s clear even in this world where words do not exist that Jessica shares this viewpoint.
Without needing to explain ourselves, we go deeper into the water, as we begin to explore the magnificent underwater wreckage.
And there we are!
That’s a comparison between AI writing and human-led writing.
Let’s look at what happened:
It’s clear to see that the initial output that was generated was relatively short and it also didn’t fit what we wanted – we had to adapt our strategy and therefore the problems that we use in order to get something that match a particular creative vision.
Still, the AI-written essay took a few promptings and took a very short while (10 minutes of prompting to get the result I described), while the essay I wrote took about 20 minutes to complete. Obviously they’re not directly comparable because the structuring is different, there are different turns of logic, different effects, and they have a different word count altogether.
I think it is clear that the AI generated output isn’t bad and if we think about what we took to get there, it’s certainly faster than writing things by hand, even considering my relatively quick writing speed – at the same time though, creating it does require some creative input and a sense of what you’d like to do, which means having a sense of story, development, and an overall creative vision that you like to implement through the AI, which isn’t something that you can get just from randomly prompting; that’s why I always observe (and those of you who have taken my online course may know this) that there is a strong element of what we call garbage in, garbage out.
If you have no idea what you want in the first place, there is no way that an AI, no matter how advanced, is going to be able to provide you with a meaningfully high-quality output; it’s very important to get a sense of what you want before you can let AI take the reins in any way!)
I would note from my own self evaluation though that there were certain executive decisions that I made during the writing process that made it so I could change up the imagery, and also know that there was a definite story that I wanted to tell through the essay, which in turn fed into the particular prompting strategy which I fed into ChatGPT.
I’ll note that if you were someone who wanted to create a piece of written work that fits your own individual specifications, it may also be faster to do so via the human route, particularly if you want to tailor things on the fly, improvise, or otherwise create certain things.
Of course, there’s a skill barrier that’s involved in this – if you don’t have the requisite mastery of language, grammar, logic, scenery, pacing, etcetera, you may find it a little more difficult to create as you wish when in your mind, it is difficult to express something of which you have no concept; language mastery influences your thoughts influences the pattern of the things that you can conceive of influences the actions that you take and the way you express yourself – therein lies the value of mastering language as a human, I think. (Not that I have mastered it entirely!)
Still, let’s not deny the value of AI. AI’s wonderful for conceptualizing ideas (and I definitely used ChatGPT while I was writing The Little Robot That Could Paint!), breaking through writer’s block, thinking through certain difficult concepts, and even revising your work, and it’s definitely here to stay. As you move forward though, I definitely encourage you to look at the opportunity that chatGPT he is giving to you not as something that will replace your mind and your decision-making, but instead something to accentuate it by helping you to much more rapidly at the rate, create, and test out ideas that time constraints may have made impractical for you in the past, thereby dramatically expanding the space of possibilities which you can meaningfully consider in your writing and in your work.
What did you think about this? I’ll let you come to your own conclusions. Do leave a comment if you wish to start a spirited discussion (does anyone even leave comments on blogs anymore?) or if you found this valuable 🙂
Thanks a ton!