AI And The Death Of Nuance

By Don Berman - September 29, 2023

What is nuance?

Nuance is the recognition of subtle differences and complexities within a topic or issue. It's an open, thoughtful, and thorough approach that involves questioning, listening, and understanding multiple facets of an issue. Nuance encourages us to avoid premature conclusions based on superficial interpretations. - Don Sturm

Nuance is the difference between a well-reasoned point of view and a book report. Nuance. Even the word sounds like a small thing, a shade of meaning, a whisper. But in our world of sound bites and 140-character tweets (or X’s), a world where the most complex issues are squashed down into a pancake of near meaningless partisan drivel, nuance is what saves the reasonable mind and serves meaningful discussion and rational thought. And in the end, it’s where the truth lives, alongside the soul of any argument or point of view. So, on the contrary, nuance is no small thing. It’s everything.

A user of generative AI tools can find the lack of nuance to be either glaring or barely noticeable, depending on the context. If you’re looking to generate content about something you don’t know much about, Generative AI tools can be quite impressive. But if you know a topic well and have a particular point of view, it becomes obvious that these tools lack any real nuance, and you wind up with a generative book report.

When employing GenAI to create content that conveys a particular message or a specific, original point of view, you can find yourself lobbing in prompt after prompt and orbiting around meaningful prose without ever getting any closer to the result you want. It's like a carousel where you're trying to grab the brass ring on each pass, but every time you reach out, it's just beyond your grasp, sending you in circles of perpetual near-success.

Given this clear and evident issue with generative AI, I decided to ask the source. So, I asked Chat GPT why it was so awful at nuance. Here is the summarized response I received:

Generative AI models, like GPT, often struggle with nuance due to their reliance on vast training data, which can lead to average or generalized outputs. Their lack of genuine understanding, context, and lived experiences means they can't deeply grasp human emotions or cultural nuances. Additionally, their design might lean towards caution to avoid controversy, and their responses are heavily influenced by the prompts they receive. The broad scope of these models sometimes sacrifices depth in specific topics.

An oddly nuanced response 😉

So, the result you often get from GenAI tools can seem bland, uncontroversial, flat and without a compelling viewpoint. This is not surprising and according to Chat GPT, it’s by design.

So, what is Generative AI good for?

I don’t design graphics, write code, design pharmaceuticals or video games. So, I’ll confine myself to what I know something about. Writing textual content. As a writer and creator of content, GenAI can be amazing. Here’s what I love about GenAI tools like Bard and Chat GPT:

Creating Drafts - GenAI tools are really organized and write in a highly structured predictable manner. So, I often use them to create a first draft. It will provide an introductory paragraph, supporting points and concluding paragraph. And it will likely provide data that you hadn’t considered. It will be bland, average, and inoffensive. Not what you’re trying to write, but an outline or framework to keep you focused and organized. It’s up to you to provide the nuance… Your truth.

Writing marketing materials/email – So if you’re trying write general, uncontroversial, and organized text, GenAI tools will get you much closer to the mark. They seem to be especially adept at writing marketing emails. HubSpot, Phrasee, and Chat GPT are good examples of this. You’ll still need to tweak the output to make your specific points, but the bones of the content will be at your disposal.

Personalizing Content – GenAI tools can alter text to appeal to specific audiences. This can be very helpful for marketing materials, job postings, or de-biasing job descriptions.

Summarizing – GenAI tools are great at summarizing. Maybe I’m just bad at summarizing or too close to my own prose to sacrifice any of it, but these tools do a great job of it. You can even ask it to reduce the number of bullet points in a list or expand on text should you need to.

Revising Tone – Perhaps you’ve just written a piece that has all the points you’ve intended to include, but as you read it back, it sounds too formal or too glib or too academic or not academic enough. This can be a really difficult task for a human, but not for GenAI tools. Simply ask and you shall receive!

Searching – Did you ever Google something and feel like you now have a giant project in front of you? Bing now will (with disclaimer) provide a direct textual answer to your questions. This can be extremely helpful when you need an answer--not another research project.

User Interface – As we see GenAI incorporated into software, the concept of prompting and iterating to a positive outcome will be very compelling and many tools we use daily will likely adopt this paradigm. We expect this trend to accelerate as the population at large becomes more adept at rudimentary prompt engineering.

So, despite the lack of nuance, there are many positives.

It’s late, and I realize I really don’t feel like writing a conclusion to this article, so I asked Chat GPT to do it for me:

In a world increasingly dominated by sound bites and superficial interpretations, the concept of nuance might seem like a whisper in a cacophony. Yet, as this exploration of AI and the death of nuance reveals, it's everything. In the realm of generative AI tools like Chat GPT, the absence of nuance can be glaring, especially when attempting to convey a specific message or unique viewpoint. However, this limitation is not a flaw but rather a consequence of their design. These tools, while lacking the depth of understanding that a human possesses, still offer tremendous value, particularly in the realm of content creation. From structured drafting to email marketing, content personalization to summarization, and even revising tone, generative AI tools prove to be powerful aids for writers and creators. The key lies in recognizing their strengths and adding the nuanced touch that only a human mind can provide. As we continue to embrace and refine the art of prompt engineering, the integration of AI into various aspects of our lives will undoubtedly open new doors to efficiency and creativity, further blurring the lines between human and machine collaboration. In this evolving landscape, nuance may not be dead, but rather undergoing a transformation, finding its place in the synergy between human ingenuity and artificial intelligence.

What do you think?

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