3 min read

AI Is the Future

AI Is the Future
DigitalProf // Midjourney 2023

Recently, I was part of a university-wide panel on ChatGTP. With all the current brouhaha in higher education about the cheating potential of this new AI, my investigation led to an epiphany: AI is the future of English Studies.

Instead of being reactionary, most of the panel’s participants analyzed the capabilities of ChatGPT in their disciplines. Like any other trending technology, I’m always ready to try it out to see if it could be useful to me personally or professionally. I have to say: ChatGTP is pretty good in my initial attempts to use it. It summarized the plot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1931 short story “Babylon Revisited” pretty well offering a bit of editorializing about themes, and then with a prompts gave me some general analyses using different modes of interpretation, like cultural, feminist, and psychological (I put some on LitWiki for reference). In each, it identified obvious themes, but was really unable to go beyond a cursory analysis. With leading prompts, I was able to get a few more specifics, but nary a direct quotation, nor a secondary reference was to be had. Also, as I learned in the “It’s a Machine’s World” episode of On the Media, ChatGTP wants to please its users, so it’s good at “bullshitting.” I will often write “BS” on my student papers, and when I ask them what that means, they chuckle. “That’s right,” I say, “it means ‘be specific,’ but also implies what you’re thinking.” Thus, here’s the primary takeaway: ChatGTP wants to give you what you want, so it often stinks of BS. It even occasionally just makes stuff up.

Composing prompts for ChatGTP is a bit friendlier than it is for Midjourney, but the idea is the same. Midjourney is a popular AI image creator, and like ChatGTP, it is a natural language processing AI, so users create images through text-based prompts. The best images are created with well composed prompts. It’s all a bit mysterious, but trial-and-error has allowed me to compose some recipes (codes, spells) that work well. Indeed, using Midjourney is like casting a spell: summoning powerful forces to make something that matches an image in your imagination. When you get the formula just right, it is almost like magic.

After a bit of investigation, I found that AI creation tools are also available for music, video, and 3D rendering. All of these rely on text-based prompts, though the video generator is a bit more involved—but not so much as getting equipment and production crew together. Essentially, a script is all you need to begin, and the generator like Synthesia will add the other components, like an avatar, voice-over, and backgrounds. If you want to put it all together, there are even AI-based web design generators, like Durable. As I discovered more and more, I had an epiphany.

AI is the future of creative content development, and English and Digital Humanities are in the perfect position to teach these tools.

About twenty years ago, I secured a tenure-track position—not because of my Ph.D. in literary studies, but because of my nascent expertise in what we call today Digital Humanities. My side interest in networked computer technologies was able to land me a job in an innovative new program that grew out of an English department: Communication and Information Technology, or CIT. They were interested in the implications of computers in the humanities, and this bachelor’s degree acknowledged that these new creative media would change teaching and learning in higher education in ways we couldn’t foresee at the time. Well, I think this new AI spring we seem to be experiencing might be the exact event to change higher education going forward, particularly in the liberal arts. And since language is the foundation of English Studies, we are in the perfect position to begin using these tools as integral components for education in the digital age.

Is your student enrollment waning, particularly in liberal arts degrees? Well, how about a track in your traditional English major called “Writing for AI”? To me, this is an outgrowth of a course I have been teaching for years: “Writing for Digital Media.” The possibilities for Digital Humanities also abound: how about a course called, simply, “AI for DH”? Since DH is as much about building things as it is about traditional textual analysis, I can see a project-oriented class that uses various AI-assisted generators to make truly unique things. Just wait until the 3D printers get in on the action.

It’s time to put some of these ideas into practice. Check back soon.