Does AI Know As Much About The Paranormal As A Human Researcher?
February 10, 2023 1:00 AM ‐ Ghosts • Paranormal
Photo: © Tara Winstead
With all the talk about AI chat bots lately, we wanted to see how the future of the field of paranormal research might be impacted by machine learning models like ChatGPT.
Specifically, we want to test whether the "knowledge" of a chat bot could be passed off as a genuine understanding of the paranormal. To do this, we got ChatGPT to write two slightly different paranormal-themed articles, entitled:
We spread the publication of this content out over two weeks and presented them like any other articles on the website. We didn't want totally dupe our audience, so we did add a little clue that the article wasn't written by a human. At the top of both pages, we credited a fictional author called "Alan Chabbot" for the work, which is intended to be a play on "AI Chatbot."
Other than that, we didn't edit or change the text that ChatGPT provide at all. We even asked the chat bot to provide the titles for both of the articles and asked it to suggest what the lead image for this article should depict. So these two pages are as close to being purely written by AI as they can be. Of course, we did need to coax this information out of the chat bot by asking the right questions.
It's fair to say that overall, the chat bot did a great job on the article about presentiment, describing academic studies into the possibility that some people believe they have an intuitive ability that allows them to predict future events. The article is fairly balanced, but the AI author is quite adamant that presentiment is a "controversial and poorly understood phenomenon."
The bot's second article was about paranthropology, a field of research that compliments parapsychology by studying the relationships between humans and supernatural entities, such as ghosts and spirits. Again, the chat bot did a pretty good job of writing about this topic, summarising the field of research and making it relevant to ghost hunting.
However, ChatGPT slipped up with this article and some readers guessed that this was the work of AI. It wasn't that the chat bot had got anything wrong or failed to correctly understand the topic. It failed due to what it omitted.
For whatever reason, ChatGPT didn't mention Jack Hunter in the article, a name that is synonymous paranthropology as the author of the 2012 book, 'Paranthropology: Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal'. A quick Google search for "paranthropology" reveals Jack's name in almost every result, making it very curious that he's not mentioned by the AI writer.
The omission is fairly apparent in this case, but actually ChatGPT made the same mistake in the article about presentiment. It mentions the studies into the phenomenon that were carried out at Cornell University and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2010, but it doesn't mention Daryl Bem, the researcher who conducted these experiments.
These omissions were spotted and noted by readers, especially the Jack Hunter oversight. This omission was discussed and debated online, including by the Society for Psychical Research.
So, although ChatGPT might be capable of writing convincingly about paranormal topics, where it fails is not in what it writes, but in what it misses out.
We must stress that other than for the purpose of this experiment, using machine-generate text isn't an approach we would want to switch to for all of our content on Higgypop.com. We feel our strength in writing about aspects of the paranormal lies in the fact that we are able to, not only be skeptical, but also understand, empathises with and theorise about paranormal beliefs, experiences, and ghost hunting methods. This is something a chat bot can't do, as our previous experiment with AI shows.
We also take the time to explain jargon and ghost hunting terminology, to ensure our content is accessible to readers with varying levels of interest in the paranormal. Essentially, our rule is to write every article like it's aimed at someone who's coming at the topic for the first time. Again we feel this is part of why so many people visit the website each month.
So, while ChatGPT may be able to write content that can, in most cases, be passed off as real content written by a human, it lacks the unique style and character that we attempt to put into everything we do here at Higgypop.com.
The only AI-generated articles we've published are the two mentioned above, both of which was flagged as being of non-human origins by the author credit "Alan Chabbot." Each of the articles have been updated to reflect their role in this experiment, with a link bringing readers to this page for an explanation.
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