Ghost Writers


NOTE: There’s a surprise at the end of this post, but try to refrain from skipping to the end to see what is.

As I move through my 70s, I’ve found myself reflecting on the inevitability of loss and the grief that comes with it. It seems like every year, I lose another dear friend or family member. While loss is a part of life at any age, it feels particularly poignant now.

Growing up, I never really thought about death. It was something that happened to other people, not me or anyone I knew. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that death is a fact of life, and it’s something that touches us all.

Over the years, I’ve lost friends to all sorts of causes – cancer, heart attacks, accidents, and more. Each loss has been a blow, and it’s never easy to say goodbye. But as I’ve gotten older, the losses have seemed to come more frequently, and it’s starting to weigh on me.

It’s not just the number of losses that’s difficult, it’s also the way in which they happen. Many of my friends who have passed away have suffered for months or even years before their deaths. Watching someone you love slowly slip away is one of the hardest things anyone can go through, and it’s something that stays with you long after the person is gone.

The first friend I lost was my childhood best friend, Dennis. We had known each other since we were boys and had remained close throughout the years. As we entered our 70s, Dennis started to experience some health issues. He’d always been a bit overweight, and his weight had started to take a toll on his body. He developed diabetes and high blood pressure, and despite his efforts to manage these conditions, he eventually suffered a heart attack.

I was devastated when I heard the news. Dennis had been such a constant presence in my life, and I couldn’t believe that he was gone. I struggled to process my grief, and it was a difficult time for me. I missed him dearly, and I couldn’t help but feel angry that he had been taken from me so suddenly.

The second friend I lost was my college roommate, Gary. We, too, had stayed close throughout the years, and had even traveled together on several occasions. Gary was an adventurous spirit, and he always had a twinkle in his eye. He was full of life and energy, and he always made me laugh.

As we entered our 70s, Gary started to experience some health issues as well. Eventually, he suffered a fatal stroke.

The third friend I lost was my neighbor, Tom. Tom had been my neighbor for many years, and we had always been friendly with each other. He was a kind and gentle man, and he always had a warm smile on his face. Last year, Tom died, thankfully in his sleep, of a heart attack.

Losing friends is always hard, but as I get older, it feels like the stakes are higher. When you’re young, you have your whole life ahead of you, and there’s a sense that you have time to make new friends and create new memories. But now, I find myself thinking more and more about the limited time I have left. It’s not that I’m in a rush to leave this world, but rather that I’m aware of how precious every moment is, and how quickly it can all be taken away.

The grief that comes with losing a friend never really goes away, but it does change over time. In the beginning, it’s all-consuming. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, and you can’t imagine how you’re going to get through the day. It feels like a physical pain, one that’s almost impossible to bear.

But as the days and weeks go by, the pain starts to ease. It’s still there, lurking in the background, but it’s not as raw as it was in the beginning. You start to find ways to cope, whether it’s through talking to friends and family, seeking support from a therapist, or finding comfort in your faith.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to grieve, and it’s okay to take the time you need to heal. There’s no timetable for grief, and everyone handles it differently. Some people find solace in talking about their feelings, while others prefer to process their emotions privately. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and it’s important to do what works for you.

These days, I find myself feeling grateful for the time I had with my friends and family members, and for the memories we made together. I may have lost some of the people I love the most, but their influence and impact on my life will always remain.

Losing people close to us is a painful and difficult experience. But it’s also a reminder that life is fragile, and that we never know when our time will come. It’s important to cherish the time we have with our loved ones, and to make the most of every moment.

And now, the surprise.

This piece was ghost written, and not by a human being.

I’ve been curious about cybernetics since I first came upon a book about it in the library across from my elementary school. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with the image-generating and text-generating powers of the OpenAI products. I have to say, I’m impressed.

The essay above was generated from this prompt to ChatGPT: “Write a blog post about losing friends in your 70s. Use first person and give two or three examples.”

I ran the prompt twice, first without the request for examples and then again with it. I spent about 10 minutes editing the output to eliminate redundancies and slightly vary the language. Nothing more.

Is this the most brilliant piece I have read about loss in older age? No, but it’s better than many I have encountered, and with more editing and some real examples, I could have further improved it in much less time than it would have taken to compose a piece myself.

ChatGPT, more than other AI engines I’ve sampled, raises some interesting questions for the immediate and distant future. Despite decades of reading about robots and artificial intelligences, as a writer, it’s hard to know how to feel about what AI can do, and a little scary, frankly, to imagine what it will do next.

There are several obvious potential pros to using AI to write. One major advantage is efficiency. AI writing tools can produce written content quickly and at scale, which can be useful for businesses or organizations that need to produce a large amount of written material in a short period of time. AI writing tools can also be used to improve the accuracy and consistency of written content, which can be especially important for technical or scientific writing.

However, there are also some potential cons to using AI to write. One concern is the potential for AI-generated content to be of lower quality than content produced by human writers. AI writing tools may not be able to produce content that is as nuanced, creative, or persuasive as content produced by human writers. Additionally, there is a risk that the use of AI writing tools could lead to job displacement for human writers, particularly in industries where the production of written content is a significant part of the job. In the future, it is possible that the use of AI writing tools could lead to further automation and job displacement in industries where writing is a significant part of the job.

NOTE: The above two paragraphs were written by ChatGPT.

Would mine have been different? Probably. Would they have been better? I hope so, but maybe not.

You can try this remarkable tool, currently free, here:

If you’d like to share what you and ChatGPT co-create, you’re welcome to post the results in the comments.

As a friend of mine (still here!), once said, “It’s great to be living in the future.”

More anon,


Copyright 2022, David J. Bookbinder and ChatGPT

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6 thoughts on “
Ghost Writers

  1. Wow David, this certainly stirs up questions and feelings – I’m hearing about AI-generated writing around every corner recently. But this is my first time reading it without knowing what it is, and then being told. Ouch… surprisingly I feel a wedge driven between you and your content. Are these words then still a representation of your feelings and experiences? Were those your real friends? And how can I know? I’m not being flat-out critical; I’m sure there will be benefits – just feeling the chill of an unknown wind coming.

    1. I proposed the question because I have had several friends, some close and current and some from long ago but still important to me, die recently, and I wanted to see what the AI could write about something so personal. I let the AI make up the names and situations of the people who died. Except for a word or two here and there, everything else in the piece is also the AI’s work. Yet, what it came up with around loss and a more limited time horizon is remarkably close to my own experiences, feelings, and ideas. Spookily so. The only substantial differences are that even as a young boy I was aware of death, and that the immediacy and inevitability of death has been abundantly apparent to me since I nearly died 30 years ago. Hence, I would likely have written a somewhat different piece.

      This was an experiment. All the pieces I’ve seen written by AIs were in articles that presented the AI as the author up front, which colored my viewpoint. However, we have likely already seen, and will certainly see in the future, many pieces written by AIs but with a human writer’s byline. I felt it was important to knowingly have that experience; hence this post.

      I’ve conducted many more exercises with ChatGPT in the last week or so, allowing myself to become more familiar with this technology and its current strengths (which will only increase) and limitations, both those imposed by the designers and those of the technology itself. It wrote an impressive sonnet, book description, rendition of a scene I’d just spent two days working on, self-help piece, and answered many questions I might otherwise have asked Google. Most of the AI creations were at least competent, some much more than that. Most of the answers to the questions were accurate, some wildly, even comically, inaccurate. Still, for the most part, it passed the Turing test.

      How this tool will be used and abused we will know soon enough.

  2. David, your examples of AI authorship is interesting. I have seen other example of this form.
    I neither embrace or agree with this format. Expressing life’s experiences should be left to the living.
    I dont see the value in aimless AI journalism.
    I compair that to planning trips to Mars. To what end

    1. As a lifelong science fiction fan (and, early on, as a kid with his sights set on becoming a NASA engineer), but also as a writer, I find I have mixed feelings. One part of me has always believed some kind human-like AI was inevitable and I have been hoping it would show up in my lifetime. On the other hand, as a writer, I’m less than thrilled to find that an AI can write something I’d take hours to write in 20 seconds, and sometimes do a better job of it.

      Just for kicks, I gave it a prompt for a romance-style novel, and after a few tweaks to the prompt, ChatGPT spit out a quite plausible synopsis from which, if I were so inclined, I could have generated a full-length bodice-ripper. I then tried it on a sonnet — not bad, and better than I could have produced. And then another self-help piece, some scenes from the book I’m working on, and another story idea. All at least competent, some more than competent. Is it scary that just as I’m getting back to writing again, AI is conceivably out-pacing me? Sure. Just like John Henry and the steam hammer, I suppose.

      I’ll probably see what use I can make of it. I figure if I can’t beat ’em, I may as well join ’em

      1. Thanks for sharing your experiment. For me the idea of AI composed written pieces is rather disconcerting, though intriguing to read about and witness. While I can see it being useful for pieces delivering facts from a storehouse of proven reputable sources, with cited references for confirmation, it’s discincerting to think a non-human would be conveying the experiences and feelings a human purportedly had, but that may or may not be based on a real human’s experience. Even characters in fictional writing are written from the perspective of the human author who draws from the experiences and knowledge they’ve gained by their own life or another’s. Coincidentally I just saw a PBS segment on a center at MIT that is devoted to this phenomenon and also demonstrated how it works.
        I remember once seeing how avatars were used to deliver broadcast news on TV in an Asian country. Very odd, but as far as i recall the scripts were created by the news staff and ‘handed over’ to be delivered by computerized beings. My father was also fascinated with the futuristic world portrayed by Buck Roger’s and others, but as someone whose career involved writing and reading about scientific discoveries and speculation, I’m not sure he would consider AI generated content as valid for that purpose either. He would however be very intrigued!

        1. Thanks for your thoughts. It’s a complex topic, but one that anyone who writes (or reads) probably would benefit from thinking about. I’ve been experimenting with ChatGPT more since I/we wrote that piece. It’s written credible fictional scenes; competent and, on one case, compelling poetry; a post on another self-help topic that could have been written by me; and provided accurate feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of writing I have asked it to critique — much more informative than putting the same passages through the writing-centric Hemingway and Grammarly apps.

          I’ve also watched a few YouTube videos in which, while we watched, people put together scripts for videos, business books, and other creative work we normally think of as needing a human to create. And this is just the beginning. All of this is impressive, and all of it is disturbing, at least to me.

          What it will mean to us is unclear. Do we “die with a hammer in our hand,” or do we find a way to go with the flow, as we have done with other technologies, such as writing, photography, and computers? Time will tell.

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