Sex Ed., AI, and the Personal Statement
The clock ticks a noticeably louder rhythm through the haze of body odor and giggly stares in Ms. Domion’s sex ed class. Outside I hear the brakes of a school bus sigh, an unofficial final bell before the real one rings and students flood the orange, Mexican-tiled halls. I’m sitting near the window where April breezes mingle with teen spirit, and so far I have learned about as many nuggets of information as there are teenagers with excellent decision-making skills. That is, very few. Ms. Domion refuses to teach.
When I logged into OpenAI and asked ChatGPT if it could write me a personal statement about sitting in a sex ed class at the end of a school day, its supernatural cursor poured out a story featuring someone named Sarah, how she felt vulnerable and hoped the teacher wouldn’t call on her, how she nevertheless learned about her body and the importance of consent, and left “ready to face whatever challenges lay ahead.”
It was quite good, almost convincing. It had all the hallmarks of ChatGPT’s impeccable structuring and grammar, as well as its tone of voice that leans closer to flesh and blood than stainless steel. I shuddered to think how the machine will only get better at every task, and faster than we can imagine.
But there was one big problem: the story was in the third-person. It was about someone else, some Sarah who never existed.
Ok, simple fix. I clacked a new prompt into the robot’s rectangular ear: “Write me a story in the first-person about being in a sex ed class at the end of a school day in spring.”
I got the Sarah story again, in the first-person, chock full of predictable details and a caring, but generic teacher named Mrs. Johnson. “Why can’t you write like a person, like me?” I queried.
“As an artificial intelligence language model, I don't have personal experiences or emotions like humans,” came the reply. A healthy admission, one which a sliver of me doubts will be the case forever.
As it is now, by design, ChatGPT can only be predictable and rational, whereas we humans often are not. The personal statement is an opportunity and a challenge to be unpredictable, to show off your zany humanness that makes you unique.
And even if general artificial intelligence comes along and mimics human-like intelligence with its unpredictability, it will never be your intelligence, your five senses, your experience in that stinky, end-of-the-day classroom. It may be much smarter than all your teachers combined, but it will not have a Health teacher named Ms. Domion who refuses to teach because she, too, is human and vulnerable and scared. It will not be a student in a school whose floors are made of Mexican tiles, where April breezes feel the way I felt them in that frustrating desk by the window. Of that I am certain.
ChatGPT and similar systems will learn to use language more poetically than they do now. They will learn to alternate between edgy and polite. They will learn to overlook the automatic blue and red zigzags beneath linguistic risks, be a little less perfect for style’s sake. They may produce something rivaling Hamlet or they might write their own Gospel of AI with their own theology, and we’ll enjoy it if we’re still around. But they will never be you with your experiences. You always have your own story and your own way of telling it, which you’ll do for your personal statement, in college, and beyond. It’s one of the coolest things about being a human.
Besides, just because AI can “learn” the entire internet does not mean that you yourself learn anything. You still need to learn what a gamete is even if you’ll never hear about it ever again.