ChatGPT has some wondering if artificial intelligence will make human creativity obsolete. Released in November by Open AI, the chatbot can quickly write readable prose in response to natural-language prompts better than most people can. When one of my colleagues asked ChatGPT for a 250-word summary of Umberto Eco’s philosophy of translation, it produced a text that would put many educated adults to shame—and it did so within seconds. Reactions to this new AI have ranged from panic to wonder. It is potentially competition for anyone who writes for a living, including journalists and lawyers. Even visual artists are worried, given the dozen or so AI art generators that can already create virtually any image.
To me, the hubbub feels like déjà vu. As an academic translator, I witnessed a similar debate emerge surrounding the introduction in 2017 of DeepL, a ground-breaking form of neural machine translation. At the time, most people took one of two views: either the new technology would ultimately replace human translators or it would be insufficient and barely affect the field. It ended up being something in the middle.