It was inevitable that there would be artificial intelligence programs capable of creating essays, novels, and all sorts of written material. Robots can vacuum your floors and drive a car. I’m still holding my breath for that hover car they had in the Jetsons. But I decided it was time to test drive ChatGPT, an automated language model. I asked it how I should attribute its work, as I didn’t want to plagiarize.
The response was,
“If you want to attribute a quote to ChatGPT, you can simply write ‘ChatGPT said,’ followed by the quote in quotation marks. Since I am an AI language model and not a human being, you don't need to provide a full name or any other personal information.”
As a demonstration, I wanted to see if ChatGPT could create a story for my Time Travelers Writing Group. We’re not talking about SciFi; it’s related to writing about ancestors. So, I asked it, Can ChatGPT write stories about my ancestors?
“Certainly! I'd be happy to write a story about your ancestors. Please provide me with some information about your ancestors such as their names, where they were from, and any significant events or achievements that you would like me to include in the story. Additionally, please let me know if you have a specific type of story in mind, such as a fictional tale based on your family's history, or a more factual account of their lives.”
Here’s the command I put in the text box: Write a story about Ellen Hotopp McCracken’s life, based on these facts:
- born in Elk Grove, Illinois in 1857
- Saw Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train procession.
- Family moved to Marshall, IA probably due to father’s job as a railway mail carrier
- Married John Robert McCracken in 1879 at her parent’s home
- Bought 160 acres near Kingsley, IA, and moved to a farm there in 1885
- Had 11 children
- Fay, Clifford, and Grover, all preceded her in death
- She put on a black dress and went out to work as a midwife
- Suffered from a type of dementia at the end of her life
(This ancestor was my great-grandmother, but she died before I was born.)
Within a second, ChatGPT started spitting this out, one word at a time, as if I was watching an old teletype machine back in the 1970s—
“Ellen Hotopp McCracken was born in Elk Grove, Illinois in 1857. As a young girl, she witnessed history when she saw Abraham Lincoln's funeral train procession pass through her hometown. Ellen was in awe of the solemn procession and the respect shown to the fallen president.
“When Ellen was still a child, her family moved to Marshall, Iowa, likely due to her father's job as a railway mail carrier. It was here that Ellen grew up and received her education.
“In 1879, Ellen married John Robert McCracken in her parents' home. The couple moved around quite a bit during their early years of marriage, but eventually settled down in Kingsley, Iowa, in 1885. There, they bought 160 acres of land and started their family.
“Over the years, Ellen gave birth to eleven children, though sadly three of them - Fay, Clifford, and Grover - preceded her in death. Ellen was a devoted mother and wife, but she also found time to pursue her interests outside the home.
“In fact, Ellen put on a black dress and went out to work as a midwife in the surrounding towns. Her knowledge of botany and chemistry came in handy when she helped women during childbirth. Ellen was a comforting presence during a time when many women did not have access to medical care.
“As she grew older, Ellen began to suffer from a type of dementia. It was a difficult time for her and her family, but they remained by her side and cared for her until the end of her life.
“Ellen Hotopp McCracken was a woman ahead of her time. She pursued higher education, worked as a midwife, and ran a farm alongside her husband. Her love for learning and her dedication to her family and community inspired those around her. Even in her final years, Ellen's legacy continued to live on, and she is remembered as a remarkable woman who made a lasting impact on her community.”
This all reflects the information I fed the AI except for the part about botany and chemistry. I wasn’t sure where that came in. I decided to give the ChatGPT free reign. Did it have an imagination?
So, then I requested—Write a story about Ellen Hottop McCracken born in 1857 in Elk Grove, IL. Not a lot to refer to there. Here’s what it came back with:
“Ellen Hottop McCracken was born in 1857 in Elk Grove, a small town in Illinois. Her parents were farmers and Ellen grew up with a love for the land and a deep appreciation for hard work.
“As a young girl, Ellen was quiet and reserved, preferring to spend her time reading books and learning about the world around her. She was particularly fascinated by science and the natural world, and would spend hours exploring the fields and forests around her home.
“Ellen's love of learning eventually led her to pursue higher education, something that was still rare for women in the late 1800s. With the support of her family, Ellen enrolled in the University of Illinois, where she studied biology and chemistry.
“After graduation, Ellen began working as a researcher at a small laboratory in Chicago. She quickly made a name for herself in the field of botany, and her work on plant genetics and breeding earned her international acclaim.
“Ellen's research took her all over the world, from the rainforests of South America to the deserts of Africa. She was known for her tireless work ethic and her passion for discovering new things.
“But despite her success, Ellen remained humble and grounded. She never forgot her roots in Elk Grove, and she always made time to visit her family and friends there.
“As Ellen grew older, her health began to decline. But even in her final years, she never lost her love of learning and her curiosity about the world. She passed away in 1929, but her legacy lived on through the countless scientists and researchers who were inspired by her work.
“Today, Ellen Hotopp McCracken is remembered as a pioneer in the field of botany and a trailblazer for women in science. Her passion, dedication, and love of learning continue to inspire generations of researchers and scientists around the world.”
Well, that settles it. ChatGPT, you are writing my eulogy.