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How to... use AI to unstick yourself
We often lose momentum because of something small. AI can help.
Many people want to express themselves creatively, and remarkably few think like they are able to do so. One survey asked a representative sample of people how many were felt like they were living up to their creative potential. Only 31% said that they were. There are a lot of frustrated creative energy in the worl-
Look, that paragraph wasn’t going anywhere. I rewrote it a few times, and it just isn’t working. I know what I was to say, but I am frustrated. When this has happened in the past, I have asked a friend or coworker for help, or even walked away from the writing. But, I can just ask a generative AI for help: I am stuck on a paragraph in an essay about how AI can help get you unstuck. Can you help me rewrite the paragraph and finish it by giving me 10 options for the entire paragraph four professional styles. make the styles and approaches different from each other, making them extremely-well written.
one of these are perfect (I could make them better using the techniques I discussed in this post), but they provide something very new: an automated way to unstick yourself. It is very easy to get distracted from a task by one difficult challenge. AI provides a way of giving yourself momentum.
So, here are some practical tips for unsticking yourself with AI (and, at the end, a few wider questions that these approaches raise)
Unsticking your writing
I already showed you one technique for overcoming the “tyranny of the blank page,” asking AI to provide dozens of alternative approaches to completing a sentence or thought, but there is a lot of other ways it can help.
For example, when you are starting to write, you can use it for inspiration. You can ask your favorite AI: I am writing about how to be more creative, I need some inspiration to spark some ideas. Give me themes, quotes, links or anything else you might think might help me start my writing. Use reputable sources. Generally, Bing will provide more varied answers (that are usually more correct), but ChatGPT will provide more consistent ones (though the links and quotes are likely to be hallucinations). You can ask the AI for more details, exploring a topic until inspiration hits.
It can also be useful to ask the AI to provide an outline of a potential piece. Usually, it won’t be exactly what you need, but it can serve as inspiration. (And, of course, you can have the AI actually write the material according to your instructions, a move which has a lot of ethical and practical implications)
Just pasting in your writing and asking AI to make it better/more professional/more concise/with better examples/more vivid can also be useful. And Bing can go one step further Ask it to look up writing tips by____ and apply that to your text to see a real change in style (though, since Bing only permits limited text entry of 2,000 characters, it can be challenging to use this technique a lot). Some particularly good writing prompts for Bing are:
For non-fiction ask Bing to: Read Cormac McCarthy's writing advice for scientists in Nature, Read How to Improve Your Nonfiction Writing from Masterclass, Look up nonfiction writing advice from John McPhee
For fiction ask Bing to: Look up Encyclopedia Britannica’s Writing Tips from 7 Acclaimed Authors or ask it look up the style for your favorite author in the genre you are writing in.
A lot of people get stuck on a step in a project, leading them to abandon it completely.
For example, this study shows around 1/3 of Americans have had a startup idea in the last 5 years but few act on it — less than half even do any web research. You can overcome these blockages by asking ChatGPT or Bing for help. They aren’t always 100% right, so don’t take legal advice (yet) but they can bias you towards action, rather than spending all your time planning. This is an easy way to use these tools - you can literally just ask them what to do next. Bing is generally much more helpful for this, including giving you some useful estimates on costs and specific plans.
The key is dialog - you have a slightly misinformed but infinitely helpful intern - what do you want to ask it? The level of expertise is surprisingly wide, but any results need to be verified in detail.
AI can also help you overcome skill gaps that might be holding you back. How do you code a simple program when you have never coded before? You can ask the AI to help teach you (I used ChatGPT which is better at coding, for now). Again, the usual caveats apply, but, by working back-and-forth with the AI, possibilities begin to open up.
Unsticking the interpersonal
Some of the most intimidating circumstances we face are when we interact with others. For example, we are too reluctant to engage other people, either to help them or to ask for help. But AI is not that shy! You can ask it to help you ask for help from others. One obvious way is write a draft of an email from a student to ____ asking them for a letter of recommendation. Tell them it is for the Nobel Prize and that the selection criteria is the ability to play piano. Mention that they were your piano instructor, and they would be the right person to help. I would strongly advise that you use this as a draft to work on, and add details and make it personal! (I have started receiving a lot of emails from students that look like they came right from ChatGPT, a problem that will only grow with time)
Beyond this, however, AI can help you overcome some of your worries about upcoming events by helping you prepare for a high-stakes conversation or interview. Try asking it to pretend to be someone and role-play out a scene for you. I am going to a job interview for a position as a graphic designer at Acme, roleplay the interviewer, ask me questions, and give me feedback on my replies. Or, with Bing, ask it to look up [person’s name] and suggest some topics to discuss about their work, to get a sense of how you might want to start a conversation. Again, these tips do not substitute for the human touch, and unedited AI emails feel uncompelling, but they are a great way to overcome inertia by providing you with a starting point.
Unsticking the personal
I learned about one unexpected way people are using AI to unstick themselves when I spoke to my students about how they use AI. A remarkably large number are using these systems to to create schedules to improve their life. People have mentioned following-AI created exercise plans, writing plans, and diet plans, among others. I am not sure the quality is better (or worse) than other advice that you find online, but it is easier to personalize. If you decide to do this, ask Bing to look up your favorite sources of knowledge before giving you advice.
I think this is going to be an increasingly common use of AIs to unstick action, and it illustrates the positives and negatives of using AI to get unstuck. People want to confide in, and get help from, the AI chatbots that are appearing in their lives. They feel so realistic, and often seem quite wise. They can even fool people into thinking that the advice they are offering is coming from real people, as one unethical experiment discovered.
On one hand, AI-generated advice is a powerful example of how a small amount of personalized correct-ish advice overcomes inertia. People are often too relucant to change, and tools that help them do that can be very helpful. On the other, it also highlights the host of ethical and practical concerns that will grow as AI becomes more common, and “unsticking” becomes outsourcing. What is the value of a recommendation letter written by an AI? It is one thing to have an AI help you with a difficult paragraph, but what if it writes the entire essay? These are universal issues that will soon effect every written interpersonal communication.
And beyond that, unsticking is a way to think of the subtle aspects of the alignment problem - the question of how to ensure AI is used in an ethical way. People are already using AI as a personal advisor. That use will only grow as chatbots like Bing spread. What advice should AI creators suggest they give to requests for delicate personal help? Bland advice? Advice based on the internet consensus? Refuse? Something else? I don’t think we have answers to this question yet, but it is going to be very important to get clarity on this issue in the very near future.
Using AI to overcome inertia is a great way to get started with a powerful tool. You will quickly see how it can help you, but you will also start to realize the implications of ubiquitous AI assistants are larger than you expected.