Vanessa Chang’s essay, “Prosthetic Memories, Writing Machines,” examines the dynamic interaction between artificial intelligence and human creativity, focusing on writing. She employs the emergence of AI writing tools, such as OpenAI’s GPT-3, to structure a reflective examination of the evolving relationship between technology and human cognition.
The essay’s crux is predicated on the concept of the “extended mind,” a philosophical idea proposed by Andy Clark and David Chalmers. This concept rejects the traditional view that the mind is confined to the physical brain, instead offering that cognition results from the interaction between brain processes and the instruments we use to perform cognitive tasks. Thus, our minds extend into our world, and our world extends into our minds. In the context of Chang’s essay, writing systems, including AI, are viewed as instruments that embody information external to the human mind, becoming a component of our cognitive ecology.
The essay emphasizes a few instances of artificial intelligence in creative writing. An example of such an undertaking is Ross Goodwin’s “1 the Road,” in which artificial intelligence was trained on literary corpora and used to write a novel during a cross-country road trip. A further example is the Granthika software, which functions as a cognitive enhancer for writers by assisting with world-building and tracking complex timelines.
Chang argues that these initiatives that combine human creativity and technology are not disruptions but rather the next step in the evolution of writing as a technology for extending memory. She draws parallels between the invention of writing, which enabled us to capture and store information, thereby expanding our capacity for memory, and the emergence of artificial intelligence, which offers new ways of thinking, creating, and working with databases.
Nevertheless, the essay recognizes the limitations of AI writing tools. Despite their remarkable linguistic proficiency, these tools cannot currently comprehend the prose they produce. As a result, their output can become increasingly incoherent as they continue to write, limiting their ability to pose an existential threat to creative writers.
In essence, Chang’s essay examines the intersections of technology, cognition, and creativity, focusing on how AI as a writing instrument challenges and reshapes our understanding of these concepts.
Chang’s central argument is that AI extends human cognition, transforming creative writing into a human-machine collaboration. This perspective challenges traditional notions of authorship and creativity by arguing that these concepts can involve non-human actors, such as artificial intelligence.
Chang’s essay, one would conclude, compels us to reconsider our definitions and limits of creativity, authorship, and the mind. These reflections are intriguing and essential as we navigate the future of writing and creativity in an increasingly digitalized world in light of the rapidly advancing capabilities of artificial intelligence.