How Technologies Amplify Human Abilities (2/2)

Jinho D. Choi
6 min readSep 22, 2023


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In the previous section, I explained how existing technologies could amplify human abilities with familiar examples such as calculators and GPS navigators.

The debut of ChatGPT sent shockwaves through the world. While people have experienced many chatbots before, none have come close to what ChatGPT brings to the table today. ChatGPT stands out in two crucial ways that set it apart from its predecessors.

First, unlike earlier chatbots that relied on heuristic-driven approaches to understand human language, ChatGPT is based on deep learning techniques to comprehend any input and generate output without the need for manually crafted rules. This approach empowers ChatGPT with an unparalleled ability to communicate with people in natural language. Second, while most prior chatbots were designed for specific tasks, such as hotel reservations or flight bookings, relying once again on hand-crafted heuristics, ChatGPT is trained to interpret input instructions and execute tasks accordingly. This flexibility equips ChatGPT to handle a vast range of tasks, significantly broadening its scope and utility.

As of now, only ten months have passed since ChatGPT was first introduced to the public, yet its impact on society has been greater than anything we have witnessed before. People have begun to grasp the true potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Some are eagerly adapting and discovering more efficient ways to streamline their workflows, while others remain hesitant to embrace it. As a professor of Computer Science deeply involved in university environments, I have observed several changes over the past six months since the emergence of ChatGPT:

  1. There is a significantly higher interest in AI, particularly its applications.
  2. There has been a noticeable improvement in the quality of student emails.
  3. The number of students attending office hours for coding-related issues has decreased.

Therefore, it is clear that ChatGPT has improved students’ proficiency in composing emails and debugging their code while motivating them to explore more use cases of AI.

I use ChatGPT daily, primarily for reviewing and refining my writing. Beyond basic proofreading, leveraging ChatGPT to revise my writing provides two key advantages. First, it offers alternative ways to articulate my ideas that I would not typically consider. Second, when confronted with ambiguous sections in my writing, ChatGPT tries to clarify them. Even if it does not always fully elucidate the ambiguity, its revisions draw my attention to the problem, prompting me to reflect further.

Now, the crucial question arises: does my writing quality significantly improve after ChatGPT’s revisions? The answer is “not necessarily”. I am considered proficient in writing (having authored over 100 peer-reviewed research papers), and with enough time and effort, I can achieve a similar level of writing quality. Typically, when I engage in writing, I meticulously revise each sentence multiple times until I am satisfied with the result. However, ChatGPT offers an invaluable time-saving advantage, allowing me to reach my desired level of quality more efficiently. Therefore, the primary advantage I derive from ChatGPT is the time it saves in achieving the desired writing quality rather than a significant enhancement in the quality itself.

What about students who are not yet experienced writers? In most cases (though there are always exceptional students who start with superior writing skills), even with extensive time invested in writing, they will not likely attain the same level of writing quality as I do. This, in fact, is the primary goal of my role as a professor: to guide them toward achieving a proficiency similar to mine by providing them with more practice and experiences. Can they reach a comparable level of writing to mine simply by using ChatGPT? As of the current state of ChatGPT, the answer is “doubtful”. While revision plays a critical role in refining writing, overall writing quality still heavily depends on fundamental aspects, such as the originality of content, thought-provoking ideas, and their elaboration into a cohesive concept. Without adequate experience in these areas, achieving high-quality writing remains challenging, even with the assistance of ChatGPT. Nevertheless, the benefits for less-experienced writers are still substantial as their expressions become more professional, ambiguity decreases, and the time required for writing is shortened.

What about students who are experienced writers but not proficient in a particular language? This situation is quite common in U.S. universities, as there are many foreign students with excellent writing fundamentals who are less familiar with English, which often hinders the quality of their work. For these students, ChatGPT is like a dream come true; it enables them to expand on their ideas, while ChatGPT assists in rendering those thoughts into fluent American expressions. Consequently, these students can achieve much higher-quality writing than those who do not have those who are fluent in English but have not yet built up those fundamentals.

Does ChatGPT enhance our writing abilities like calculators and GPS navigators do, as discussed in the previous section? Let us consider a scenario: you have a writing assignment on a topic about which you have no prior knowledge, like Axolotl. Even if you are entirely unfamiliar with Axolotl, you can request ChatGPT to compose an essay on the subject, and it will generate a highly compelling one for you. You might even receive a good grade by submitting it without any revisions if your instructor does not recognize that ChatGPT wrote it. Does this imply that ChatGPT imparts new knowledge to you, such as expertise on Axolotl, that you did not possess previously? No, it does not add any knowledge to you (unless you study the content generated by ChatGPT), nor does it enhance your writing skills (because you did not engage in any writing).

Now, let us consider a different scenario: you have already studied Axolotl, composed your own essay, and asked ChatGPT to revise it and correct any potential misunderstandings you may have about Axolotl. In this case, you will discover what aspects of Axolotl you might have missed and how your writing can be improved. It functions as a valuable tool that helps you refine and enhance your existing knowledge and writing skills. By working alongside ChatGPT, you gain insights into areas where your understanding might be incomplete or where your expression can be more effective. In other words, ChatGPT serves as an amplifier for your pre-existing abilities, sharpening your expertise and honing your writing prowess rather than introducing entirely new capabilities that were previously absent.

Then, what are the benefits of using ChatGPT for different groups of individuals: (1) those proficient in both writing and the language, (2) those proficient in writing but not in the language, (3) those not proficient in writing but fluent in the language, and (4) those proficient in neither writing nor the language? Group 4 may struggle to significantly benefit from ChatGPT because they lack core abilities in both areas. In their case, the amplification effect is close to zero. Group 1, possessing exceptional core abilities, primarily benefits from ChatGPT by enhancing their augmented ability for revisions. Consequently, the amplification effect is not as pronounced as it is for Groups 2 or 3, which present more intriguing scenarios.

As previously discussed, translation is one of AI’s strongest capabilities at the moment. Therefore, Group 2 stands to benefit the most because they possess the most crucial core ability required for this task: writing proficiency. ChatGPT can significantly enhance the other vital core ability they lack, language proficiency, thereby complementing their existing language skills. Group 3 can still benefit from ChatGPT by improving their weaker core ability, writing proficiency, although the impact may not be as substantial, as ChatGPT cannot enhance writing proficiency to the same extent as it can enhance language proficiency, at least for now. Nevertheless, both Groups 2 and 3 derive greater benefits from ChatGPT than Groups 1 and 4, even though the extent of the benefit varies among them.

Are there only advantages to using ChatGPT? In the following section, we will explore some of the downsides of this powerful technology and their potential consequences.



Jinho D. Choi

Associate Professor of Computer Science, Quantitative Theory and Methods, and Linguistics at Emory University