Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. Bergen is the author of “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
It’s long been clear that artificial intelligence (AI) can one day replace many humans working in fields such as customer service, insurance underwriting and manufacturing. Yet, I have long been complacent about my career as a writer. After all, what AI tool could replace the workings of the human brain?
For the past several days, I have been hearing about the AI chatbot ChatGPT. Users of the tool claim to be able to write coherent essays and op-eds in seconds. So, I signed up to give it a try and asked it to perform a task that I had hitherto believed required at least some level of skill. I asked ChatGPT to “Write an op-ed in the style of Peter Bergen.”
Within two seconds, the tool spat out this op-ed:
The country is more secure, but the war on terror is far from over.
As President Joe Biden marks 100 days in office, he can point to some consequential achievements in national security. The United States has made dramatic progress in winding down its two longest wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S. is more secure than it was four years ago, when Donald Trump took office.
But the war on terror is far from over. Al-Qaeda remains a threat to the United States and its allies, while the Islamic State continues to be a menace in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
The Biden Administration has taken some steps to address these threats, including authorizing the first military strikes against al-Qaeda and Islamic State targets in Syria and Yemen, and deploying special operations forces to Syria to help combat the Islamic State.
But much more needs to be done to protect the U.S. and its allies from terrorist threats. The Biden Administration should expand its efforts to counter violent extremism, not just in the Middle East, but in the United States as well.
The U.S. should also strengthen its partnerships with countries in the region, such as Jordan and Egypt, that are key to regional stability and counterterrorism efforts. Working with these countries to build up their capacity to counter terrorist threats will pay dividends in the long run.
Finally, the Biden Administration should make a concerted effort to re-engage with Iran, the region’s most powerful state. This could help to reduce the risk of future conflicts, while also opening the door to greater cooperation in the fight against terrorism and other transnational threats.
The war on terror is far from over, but the Biden Administration is taking the right steps to protect the United States and its allies from terrorist threats. With the right strategy and the right partners, the U.S. can continue to make progress in combating this global scourge.
The op-ed made a clear overall argument that the “war on terror” wasn’t over, buttressing that argument with multiple sub-arguments with concrete policy proposals for the Biden administration to act on, such as reengaging with Iran.
But the op-ed made some factual errors, including a dated reference about when the Biden administration had assumed office, which I attributed to the fact that, according to OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, its “default models’ training data cuts off in 2021, so they may not have knowledge of current events.”
The ChatGPT-generated op-ed also suggested that the Biden administration was the first to authorize US strikes against al-Qaeda in Yemen and ISIS in Syria, policies that had in fact started in previous administrations, and the single strike against al-Qaeda in Yemen during the Biden administration was reported to have been a “suspected” US strike, not a confirmed strike.
The op-ed also asserted that the Iraq War was one of the two longest American wars which is debatable since the Vietnam War lasted more than 10 years, while the Iraq War lasted from 2003 to the withdrawal of all US troops in 2012. (American troops did go back into Iraq in 2014 to fight ISIS and thousands remain there.)
I also work as a college professor at Arizona State University and AI tools like ChatGPT also raise some interesting questions about the role of student papers that make up such a core part of American college educations.
I asked the tool a simple historical question: “What was the role of women in the French Revolution?” And in a second it replied:
Women played a crucial role in the French Revolution, both in the context of the political upheaval and the social transformation that it brought about.
Women were active participants in the storming of the Bastille and the overthrow of the monarchy. Women also took part in the political debates of the time, forming political clubs and writing pamphlets to advocate for their rights. They also participated in the revolutionary festivals and marches, as well as the violence of the Reign of Terror.
The Revolution also saw the emergence of a new type of woman, the ‘citizeness’, who was educated and politically active. Ultimately, the Revolution brought about some changes in the status of women, such as the right to divorce and the right to own property, but these gains were short-lived.
While this short essay wasn’t exactly like the work of leading historians of the French Revolution, such as Richard Cobb or Simon Schama, and it overplayed the role of women in the violence of the “Reign of Terror,” it does suggest a future in which college students will likely be able to submit long and complicated papers that are entirely generated by AI. And then what does it mean to be educated at a liberal arts college? And why go to all the bother and expense?
So, I head into 2023 with a sobering realization. My career as a CNN op-ed writer, which began in earnest over a decade ago, may not exactly be over yet since AI generated op-eds make factual errors – just as humans do, though those are typically caught during the fact checking process.
Get our free weekly newsletter
Yet my writing career could still go the way of the grocery checkout jobs eliminated by automation. Al tools will keep getting smarter, and distinguishing an AI-written op-ed from a “real” human op-ed will get harder over time, just as AI-generated college papers will become harder to distinguish from those written by actual students.
As a writer and professor, that makes for a dystopian future. (I promise this sentiment was not generated by AI.)