Merry artificial intelligence

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 12/22/2022 8:13:05 PM
Modified: 12/22/2022 8:10:20 PM

When I heard that artificial intelligence was writing creative essays, my first thought was, “Good, it can write my column for me.”

IBM says that artificial intelligence, or AI, “leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.” Great. It’s only a matter of time before it’s building cyborgs that look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. They will utterly destroy us or entertain us with light comedies, depending on how it goes.

In the meantime, the website has a chat program open to members of the human race for tinkering. I recently gave it a test drive, in the cause of science — and in case there was something in it for me.

To pick a subject at random, I asked OpenAI if it would write a humorous story about a retired newspaper guy, Dan Mackie, who is nearly 70 years old, walks a lot and writes a column every two weeks.

“Certainly!” the agreeable artificial thingamabob said.

And here it is, abridged:

(Since this column sometimes slightly adapts facts in service to humor, I point out that this is actually true AI text. My comments are in parentheses.)

Retired newspaper man Dan Mackie had always been a bit of a wanderlust, and he was always up for a good adventure. So when his neighbor Harold suggested they take a walking tour of the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire and Vermont, Dan was all in.

(More than 5 miles? I’d have to think on it.)

Harold, who was a few years younger than Dan, had always been a bit of a fitness nut, and he was determined to show Dan that age was just a number. Dan, on the other hand, was just happy to be getting out of the house and seeing some new sights.

(I don’t know any Harold. Is he stalking me?)

The two friends set off on their journey early on a crisp autumn morning, armed with a map and a sense of excitement. They started in Hanover, exploring the charming downtown area and checking out the local stores and restaurants.

(Nothing about jaywalking college students?)

As they walked, Dan couldn’t help but marvel at the many interesting sights and people they encountered along the way. There were farmers selling fresh produce at roadside stands, kids playing in the park and even a group of llamas on a farm.

(Pretty much Marco Polo 2.0, don’t you think?)

Despite the many challenges they faced along the way — including getting lost a few times and struggling to find a good cup of coffee — Dan and Harold had a great time on their journey. And when they finally returned home, exhausted but happy, Dan knew that he had a great story to share in his next column.

Maybe not great, and certainly not funny. I am not threatened yet.

Since this is the merry season, and it’s technically not all about me, I also asked OpenAI to write a Christmas story for the Upper Valley. The resulting tale is so simple-sweet, it reads like it was written with a candy cane.

It was a cold and snowy December evening in the Upper Valley, and Santa Claus was getting ready for his long journey around the world to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls.

As he prepared his sleigh and reindeer, Santa couldn’t help but think about all the wonderful memories he had of visiting the Upper Valley over the years. The friendly people, the beautiful countryside and the cozy little towns all brought a smile to his face.

Finally, the time had come for Santa to set off on his journey. He climbed into his sleigh, waved goodbye to Mrs. Claus and the elves and set off into the starry night sky.

As he flew from town to town, Santa stopped to visit with the children and deliver their gifts. He visited Hanover, Lebanon and White River Junction, spreading cheer and joy wherever he went.

(And other towns too, I hope, or the elves are going to hear about it on the Norwich listserv.)

Finally, after a long and busy night, Santa arrived back at the North Pole, tired but happy. He knew that he had made a lot of children very happy, and that was the best feeling in the world.

Well, I didn’t get OpenAI to write my column, but I came pretty close. We’ll see if it outsmarts me and there’s an invoice in the mail.

In any case, Happy Holidays and a hopeful New Year to my remaining human readers. Happy Christmas if you celebrate it, merrily, reverently or both.

Another column filed; now time for a long winter’s nap.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at

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