This lackluster headline was written by a soulless machine | Mark Hinson

·4 min read

In January, a glimpse of the future opened for business in a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas.

An automated McDonald’s restaurant began serving sandwiches, McNuggets and fries without a human being in sight. All orders and deliveries are done by machines. Robo-burgers have officially arrived and will be coming soon to a fast-food joint near you.

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Excuse me, but hasn’t McDonald’s taste-free chow been cooked by robots for years? Gosh, I’m sure going to miss those sullen teens at the cash registers, though.

I guess Skynet finally gained consciousness.

Blame AI for the lyrics?

This winter, social media also went apoplectic with news that artificial intelligence, aka AI, could paint your likeness in the fashion of your favorite painter (Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, etc.) or write song lyrics in the style of your favorite singer. Say, Nick Cave.

An AI program named ChatGPT wrote the words to a faux Cave tune that contained the chorus: “I am the sinner, I am the saint/ I am the darkness, I am the light/ I am the hunter, I am the prey/ I am the devil, I am the savior.”

Someone showed the lyrics to the real Cave, who has written such fantastically bleak songs as “The Mercy Seat,” “Jubilee Street” and “Red Right Hand.” He said, “The apocalypse is well on its way. This song sucks.”

Is that’s all there is?

Since our robot overlords are still lurking around the corner, I decided to give ChatGPT a go while it’s in its infancy. You know, before all stories, blogs and columns are composed by machines. Especially now that I can’t get a job that includes the question, “Do you want fries with that, dude?”

Text from the ChatGPT page of the OpenAI website
Text from the ChatGPT page of the OpenAI website

I picked a story that I have told in this column before. Keep in mind, the story comes from an era when alligators were heading for extinction, and most folks did not know the proper way to treat a wild animal. That’s also known as the 1970s. It’s all true and it goes:

Hailing from Florida like I do, the first thing Europeans overseas want to know is if I’ve ever seen a live alligator in the wild.

“Does a fish drink bisque?” I say in my bad Italian or Spanish or English.

In fact, an alligator is watching me as I type right now.

When I was small, Dr. Richard Schulz, who was also a wildlife commissioner, brought a tiny “nuisance alligator” to live in my family’s spring. The only problem was that my family members also swam in the spring. The gator was named Billy and joined our swimming party.

At first, when Billy was puny and not big enough to try to eat the family dog, it was no problem swimming with the gator. We even swam up to the dinky dinosaur’s warren and splashed water in its face. Billy hissed at us. We thought it was funny.

The laughs dried up when Billy grew to the length of a Komodo dragon and bulked up. Billy had to be bribed with a whole raw chicken on a stick before it was safe to swim. My father called him by yelling his name, “Billy, Billy, Billy.” As most naturalist do.

One afternoon, when I was high school age, my father took a solo swim in the spring. The old man had paid the toll of one chicken and was doing laps in the oval-shaped body of water. Billy must have decided to see how things looked from the other warren across the way. The two T-boned each other in the middle of the spring. They both swam to their neutral corners.

The next summer, there was a chlorinated swimming pool in my backyard.

Thank you, Billy.

There. Beginning, middle and an end. I typed the Billy story online and sent it to ChatGPT.

Here’s what I got back:

It sounds like you have a unique and interesting relationship with a wild alligator named Billy. It seems that as Billy grew, it became more dangerous to swim with him and eventually led to the installation of a chlorinated pool in your backyard.

Uh, no (expletive), Sherlock.

Maybe Johnny Rotten was right. There is no future.

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Let’s remember Rowdy

Even when ChatGPT grows up and writes like a real human, it still smells of plagiarism to me. Think of all the term papers and essays that will be churned out to hand in to overworked teachers. Sooner or later, each student or civilian has to take his or her own test.

My friend Willie Earl, who is in his 90s, grew up in Hookworm, Alabama. Well, that wasn’t the real name of the town, but the place was eaten up with human parasites during the Great Depression. The public health department in the 1930s gave each schoolchild a paper box and a paper bag to collect stool samples. Including Willie Earl. A deadline was set. Each classroom teacher would collect the bags.

The morning of the deadline arrived. Willie Earl still held an empty bag. He looked out his bedroom window. The family’s flea-bitten dog Rowdy had just done his morning’s business on the side lawn. An idea struck Willie Earl. He took Rowdy’s waste and filled the paper box. He handed the bag containing Rowdy’s dung to the teacher. That was that.

Two days later a car from the health department came charging up to the school in a cloud of dust. Medical agents stormed into the classroom and asked for Willie Earl. He not only had hookworms but tapeworms, heartworm, whipworms and probably more. The worst they had ever seen, too. Willie Earl was dragged from the classroom as he tried to explain what really happened.

I sent Willie Earl’s apocryphal story to ChatGPT. Guess what? A.I. made it flat, dull and bland. You know, like that mutant McDonald’s in Texas.

Former Arts and Entertainment writer Mark Hinson on his last day at the Tallahassee Democrat, Jan. 2, 2019.
Former Arts and Entertainment writer Mark Hinson on his last day at the Tallahassee Democrat, Jan. 2, 2019.

Mark Hinson is a former Tallahassee Democrat senior writer. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: This lackluster headline was written by a soulless machine | Hinson