Aleksandrina Hadzhigeorgieva: UC Essay Competition winner 2023

May 11, 2023
Aleksandrina Hadzhigeorgieva: UC Essay Competition winner 2023

Read the essay of AUBG student Aleksandrina Hadzhigeorgieva who won first prize in this year’s University Council Competition. The topic for 2023 was “Is there a human attribute that AI can never surpass?”.

It’s raining outside. Raindrops gently fall from the sky as they tumble off the leaves of the newly blooming trees and softly splash on the wet concrete. They drizzle down the windows, providing a peaceful ambiance – perfect for a writing session. My coffee is on the table next to me, steaming, its rich aroma filling the air. It’s still too hot to drink though. As I sit on the couch, ready to finally face the daunting task of starting this essay, I allow myself to be in the moment. Everything is hushed and quiet around me, the only sounds being the endless rainfall and the bubbling waters of the river below. Most students have gone away for Easter, and an almost uneasy quiet has enveloped the dorms. The air is sweet, smelling of wet grass and blossoming flowers, a cool breeze coming from the open window. Birds are chirping quietly in the trees, little tweets coming one after another – they are probably just as confused as us about the unexpected downpour. Otherwise, the sky is a pale blue with light gray clouds, fighting to overtake it. The sun is trying to break through ever so slightly, its golden rays coming and going intermittently. A picturesque springtime moment. I crack my knuckles and take a sip of my coffee as I get to work, the blinking cursor teasing my curiosity.

Could an AI have written this passage? Sure, it could write something similar, as long as it is given the right prompt. But would it have been the same? Short answer, no. AI cannot take in its surroundings and reflect on the things happening around it. Artificial intelligence is not conscious, and I believe it will never truly be, not in the same way humans are. Experiencing and feeling are complicated things. Even we humans have not figured out how these things work exactly; our consciousness is just one of the many mysteries surrounding our existence. To illustrate my point, AI cannot feel the peace of this easygoing spring afternoon, or the looming anxiety of starting an essay four days before the deadline. It cannot feel sad or sentimental, and can’t empathize with the living things surrounding it. Therefore, AI can’t truly reflect these things on the page. It lacks the spontaneity and creativity of humans – it cannot feel the flow of the words, or the rhythm of the sentence and play around with the description until it finds the right word. The nuance and emotion of writing are lost when AI is its sole creator.

Now, I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I composed my first poem when I was only three years old and had my mom type it out for me as I couldn’t write yet. It was a story of a parrot falling from a tree and then flying off, of course, it was nothing much, but I still remember the dumb smile I had on my face when my kindergarten teacher hung it up on the corkboard. Making artistic work is exhilarating, liberating, and incredibly rewarding. It’s a great way to connect with the people around you, show them a glimpse into your inner world, and display your emotions. I love how creatively freeing writing is – you can let your imagination go wild and be unapologetically yourself. It feels so good to spill your emotions on the page, mixing personal experience with effective imagery. Writing is thinking about your readers, putting in things that will hit home – putting a joke in the right spot and playing with the rhythm of the words.

Writing has always been my favorite way to express myself. There is nothing quite like picking up a pen or sitting in front of my laptop and writing the day away. Letting my creative and sometimes whacky thoughts shine, imagination bursting from my fingertips onto the page. I find language and writing so fascinating – they are so distinctly human in the way we have evolved to have the most complex language of any other animal species by a long shot. I love how writing can be both descriptive but also simple, yet effective. Expressing ourselves through language and more specifically storytelling is so versatile that people have created hundreds of distinct genres and formats to express their thoughts.

What I find especially beautiful about writing is that there are millions of different perspectives out there – emotions, experiences, thoughts, and feelings. All are unique and important in their own way. You can tell when someone has poured their heart and soul into a piece of writing. It’s shining with personality, brings a smile to your face, or genuine tears streaming down your cheeks. It makes you feel something and helps you ponder what the meaning of life is.

All of this sounds great, right?

And then, in February 2023, my world of what I can admit is a lot of romanticized ideals started falling apart. Away with the mysterious, sometimes difficult but ultimately passionate life of the struggling artist, and enter the new generation of large language model AI – programs like the now world-famous Chat GPT – friend of every tired college student and foe of writers worldwide. Of course, I say this for dramatic effect, it really isn’t so black and white, but I am trying to engage with my audience a bit, something I have noticed AI doesn’t quite excel at yet.

I am not saying that AI writing is the worst thing, and every single human can write better, but, for me, AI writing will never achieve the level of nuance and emotion a real human writer can. Chat GPT, for example, is a great tool for writing straightforward news articles, statistical analyses, or sports reports, but it severely lacks in the creativity and emotion people bring into writing. AI, by itself, cannot surpass these human qualities. So, what does AIwriting look like exactly? Usually bland, formulaic, and often featuring awkward expressions and wording that doesn’t sound quite “human.” It lacks personality, the voice of the author, and a personal style of writing. Funnily enough, this lack of style and originality of AI work has turned into the “this feels like it was written by Chat GPT” style, which I have heard people around me use when referring to AI-generated writing.

When AI such as Chat GPT writes, it takes information from its infinitely large database and compiles it into something new, according to the prompt you give it. AI can write everything – from an essay to an article or even a Shakespearian sonnet. But even with all that, AI cannot create truly new and original things. It cannot make up a new genre, as it doesn’t exist yet. Of course, by now, there is nothing truly original even in human-created works of art. Every story is subtly inspired by hundreds of references, writings, and ideas, and those are inspired by a hundred more and so on. There is hardly anything truly original out there anymore. All different ultra-specific genres have been created, as well as characters, archetypes, and tropes. But what makes each human-created story distinctive is the author’s experiences. The things that have made them who they are. Being human, of flesh and blood, and experiencing life. From the moment you are born to the moment you die, there are so many things that happen, no matter how long that period is. And each person has a different life path. Everyone has individual emotions, unique experiences, and is good at different things. With writing and specifically storytelling, it’s not about how much knowledge you have or how logical you are. It’s about feelings, going through life, and how that feels to you. All of the things a person has gone through are constantly reflected in the way they express themselves. That’s why it is relatively easy to tell apart AI-generated writing and fully human-made work. AI does not and will not experience life as we do. It doesn’t feel or truly “live.”

As we, humans go through life, we feel and experience so much and that shapes us into who we are and presents itself in tiny ways in everything we do. For example, let’s take me writing this essay. This piece of writing is the result of all the other writing I have done up to this point, all of the things I have learned about the world, myself, and all the experiences I have gone through. AI is not conscious. It does not experience and will never truly experience life as we do. I mean, even humans haven’t figured out how consciousness works, it’s just one of the many great mysteries surrounding us and our existence. So how could an artificially created robot experience consciousness as we do? Well, it simply can’t.

AI can’t feel the pain of a particularly messy breakup. It cannot wander the streets at two AM, with orange lamplight guiding its way through unfamiliar streets on an autumn night. AI doesn’t remember its eighth birthday party or have childhood friends, it doesn’t have distinct memories of summer evenings with crickets chirping in the tall grass or going to its first concert, heart pounding with excitement. AI doesn’t cry itself to sleep some nights. AI cannot feel emotion on the level humans do and therefore it can’t experience genuine empathy or understanding. Artificial intelligence doesn’t know what these things feel like, as in order to feel such complex things you have to be human. The human condition is a complicated and nuanced thing. We have so much to keep up with and overcome, we are so resilient, yet so fragile at the same time. We have our limits but because of those limits, the work we create is genuine. Sure, people may not generate text within 10 seconds and calculate probabilities even quicker, but we are able to express our feelings, thoughts, and personality in hundreds of different and unusual ways. We are able to put a piece of ourselves into everything we do.

The beauty of writing is that through it you can live through anything, even things that don’t exist. No matter how far-fetched writing is from fantasy to sci-fi, there are universally human things that everyone has lived through in some way – life, death, love, joy, and sorrow, among others. The ups and downs of human life make us who we are. Living through these things also makes us better storytellers and writers. It affects our creativity and out-of-the-box thinking; this is what makes people so good at conveying emotion even in a few words. It makes human writing nuanced and results in different and distinct styles in most forms of writing. Even things like news reporting and technical articles can be made unique when written by different people. I believe human writing is more engaging, and thought-provoking; you can see the intention behind even little things. Also, humans are natural storytellers, as storytelling has been integral to our societies for a very long time. As soon as people developed complex enough language systems, stories, legends, writing, and music appeared, all in order to convey information and affect the people around them.

Furthermore, when you have really experienced something, you can better explain it. For example, let’s take playing the guitar. Sure, you can know everything on a theoretical level as AI does – what the instrument looks like, its distinctive parts, what chords sound good, and where the notes are. You might know something perfectly in theory but when you experience it, it is completely different. AI cannot feel the freedom and peace that comes when your fingers are flying through the strings while playing your favorite piece. It doesn’t feel the texture of the wood against its hands or the sore, sometimes bleeding fingers that come with hours of practice. AI doesn’t get the transcendental feeling that comes with playing with others, when everything goes just right, the melodies fill the air and transport you to an entirely new headspace.

All of the things we feel push us to explore different themes and write different stories. Every choice we make and the emotions we experience influence us in everything we do, including in writing. I believe that the complex process of trial and error we go through when writing is exactly what makes it so fluid and nuanced. Feelings and sensations push us to explore things we might not have before. From joy to fear, these different emotions shape us as people and the writing we produce.

What I find most interesting about the whole “AI is becoming more and more humanlike” conundrum is that everyone is in a quiet denial about just how good AI, programs like Chat GPT and DALL-E, are at doing the things they love or practice as a career. No one really wants to truly accept that AI is starting to catch up to our creativity, originality, and logical thinking. And sure, it is not up to par with human skills, but infinite time brings infinite possibilities. And while I cannot look into the future, I hope with my whole heart that we won’t just be replaced by artificial intelligence. To me, part of being human is having the ability to express yourself and your ideas freely. And, sure, we could still do that even with AI around, but I don’t imagine people will feel good if the most influential writers and artists are artificially created robots. To me, this rapid development of AI and technology is destroying the human touch in the things we make. It is removing us from our humanity, from nature, and our true feelings.

The topic of AI is daunting, and to be honest, kind of terrifying to think about, at least for me. The thought of being replaced by a robot in the future in the things I love doing now is not something I want to happen. I believe that we humans want to be unique and want to be special. There are no other species as advanced as us as far as we know for now, so in turn, having AI advance so much that it overtakes us means that we have lost our individuality. We will face a redefinition of the human condition and of life in general. To me, a future like that seems very dystopian, something I would prefer to only see on the page or screen.

Now, while my thinking may support the romantic ideals of the past, living for genuine expression and being connected to the world around us, I believe they are extremely important for humanity. After all, nature created everything around us, including our consciousness, emotions, and creativity. I feel like recreating these things artificially defeats their purpose, their absolute uniqueness in the universe. While some may not agree and want to live in a world where AI is as good, or even better than humans in every way, I just wanted to give you a glimpse into my world. It’s a world where humans have something inborn and natural that makes us creative, connected, and emotional. It helps us understand each other and best feel and understand things when we hear them from another living person. No matter how advanced AI gets, to me, it will never be the same as people. I refuse to believe that the world, this universe, beautiful and mystical, will add up to being run by programmed robots.

As I wrap up the first draft of this essay (which will go through several revisions during the following days), the rain has gradually reduced to a barely noticeable drizzle. The sun is shining bright now, its rays piercing through the windows and enveloping everything in a golden hue. The afternoon glow is warming my face, slightly obscuring my screen from view. The skies are now a bright blue, and I can see the birds flying around, frantically bringing sticks and mud to build up their nests. Children are laughing and riding their bikes, the ringing of bells filling the streets. The air is now warmer, humid, but just the right temperature. It would be a shame not to go out and experience this beautiful moment for myself. Maybe the walk will inspire me, providing the needed motivation to finish this essay, or this day will turn into a poem or short story someday. I cannot tell the future, maybe a robot will read this in 100 years and laugh at my naivety, but no matter what, I am choosing to go out and enjoy the moment, allowing my feelings to take me over and guide me – something AI simply can’t do.