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By the Way: Durham Township artificial intelligence


Who’s afraid of the big AI? Well, maybe I am.

War rages in the Middle East and Ukraine. Tyrants scheme and fume over elections all over the world. But I am caught up in my own little concerns about my own little life.

Or, more specifically, far more specifically, I am afraid artificial intelligence will start writing my columns and force me into an unwanted silence.

I don’t want a bunch of algorithms messing with my written words. Is that really going to happen? How can that be?

To begin, I believe whoever has been looking over our collective shoulder knows far too much about us. I discovered that years ago when I headed to a little shopping spree at Macy’s.

Before I even got to the front door, my iPhone was telling me there was a sale in the dress department I usually visited. That the store was collecting data about me was annoying. But on the plus side, I have since become accustomed to relying on the services of Alexa and Siri, which often are helpful.

I know AI has a predictive capacity that allows it to suggest what I should wear with what, but I also understand that AI is not really thinking but rather just assembling facts.

I mentioned my worries during a conversation with my son. He, too, is a wordsmith, a writer and editor, but he swims in a journalistic ocean compared with my little pond. We talk frequently on the phone about our work.

Well, he said, “Macy’s was just collecting data on you. What AI can do now is more interpretive and people are more aware of what its possibilities are.”

“What are you working on now?” he asked. “Oh, just a Durham Township story about timber harvesting,” I told him. “Let’s see what Chat GPT can do with it,” he said and he punched in a few words about Durham and a few more about timber harvesting.

Minutes later, this bombastic little gem popped up on my screen:

“In a tranquil gathering last night, Durham Township residents gathered at the picturesque community center nestled along the Delaware River.”

Huh? Tranquil is debatable and that picturesque community center is more like an old plain-vanilla industrial building. It’s nowhere near the river.

AI then created “20 engaged citizens” and even named a mayor, Elizabeth Thompson. (Move over, Bart Millett, supervisor chairman.) The digital mayor supposedly spoke “under the warm glow of the community center’s lights.” No warm glow there. The fluorescent lights are unforgiving.

The story went on to examine the economic benefits of logging and its environmental impact. It continued:

“With a chorus of voices echoing through the community center, citizens voiced apprehensions about soil erosions, water contamination and disrupting wildlife habitats.” Voices echoing?

The chatbot did, though, consider the flip side: “However, other residents, including local landowners, recognized the economic value of timber harvesting as a source of income for many families in the area.”

Wow, those algorithms could sure use a good editor.

But since our little telephone foray into AI, things have been changing at warp speed.

I have been happy to read that journalism is not among those occupations likely to disappear due to AI and, in many fields, AI is not wiping out jobs, but instead is useful in enhancing them.

It’s a tool. Like a hammer or a knife, it can be useful or it can cause damage if misused.

Who’s afraid of the big AI? Well, maybe I’m not.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township. She can be reached at

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