Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Chatbots for love


With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to start getting serious. A few years ago, we lived around the corner from a business that operated behind a tall fence and was guarded overnight by fierce dogs. By day, they rented industrial equipment such as forklifts, backhoes, cement mixers and motorised pulleys. An inspired staff member put up a sign that said ‘book now for Valentine’s day.’ We all know that occasionally love has to do some heavy lifting.

This year it’s even better. Now we have ChatGPT to do the heaviest lifting of all, namely finding the right words. ChatGPT is the latest computer gizmo and the current talk of the town, especially among teachers and writers. This is the generic name for a range of programs which, even in their early stage of development, can create seemingly original and authentic essays on any topic you care to name. GPT stands for ‘generative pre-trained transformer’, not ‘getting pupils through.’

 If you request, for example, ‘an alluring message for Valentine’s day’ it will come up with the following:

Happy Valentine’s Day, My love. You mean the world to me and I am so grateful to have you in my life. I look forward to making many more memories together. I love you.

This is not bad. It embraces memory, gratitude and the entire world. It may be a little cliched, but love has always been the very wellspring of cliché.  Many of us would struggle to do better, especially in the eight seconds the program required. The only suggestion I might make is to include the name of the beloved, especially if it has recently changed. ‘Making many more memories’ is an elegant smokescreen for all the things you might need later to forget.

Let’s work on it.


'We don’t just produce words in the way a baker produces bread. We exist in our self-expression. Our self-expression is soulful.'


We could ask the program to come up with a Valentine’s message in the style of Shakespeare. Here are just four lines from the instant sonnet that bounces back:

My love, thou art the very essence of beauty

Whose eyes do sparkle like the stars above

Thy lips, like cherries, tempt me with their duty,

And in thy arms I feel the purest love.

Again, not bad, although lips, cherries and duty make a strange threesome. At least it resists the temptation to rhyme sparkle with Markle.

We could ask for a valentine’s message in the style of Groucho Marx and it won’t raise a hairy eyebrow:

My dear, may you be the cheese to my macaroni and you’ll always be the Groucho to my Marx. Happy Valentine’s Day.

By now, the mind is just beginning to warm up. What about one in the style of Donald Trump?

My fellow Americans, let me tell you that nobody loves Valentine’s Day more than me. Believe me, nobody. And let me tell you I’ve had some great Valentines in my day. But let me tell you, nobody compares to the one I have now. She’s the best. The best I tell you. So to all of you out there, I say go out and get yourself a great Valentine. Trust me, it’ll be huge. Happy Valentine’s Day, America.

Rest assured, the one that comes back if you ask for the style of Pope Francis is rather more uplifting.

We could play this game for ages. It’s no surprise, even with ChatGPT still in its infancy, that educators, let along writers, are asking questions. How will we ever know where a piece of work has come from?

I am a little more sanguine than others because I believe ChatGPT has the capacity to call our bluff. It may well put an end to plagiarism because overnight plagiarism will become too much hard work with all that cutting and pasting. Furthermore, I half hope that ChatGPT will push online submission and assessment over the edge to which it has been close for a long time. It could see the return of handwriting and oral assignments.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe these practices bring students closer to their own work, allowing them to become more at home with their own thinking. There is a style of education which has been treating students as chatbots for years anyway, programming them to write and respond in formulaic ways. We should be open to anything that can show us that much social discourse has become like the emperor with no clothes. We need to call the bluff on uninhabited verbiage.

At the root of all these questions are issues of authenticity and creativity. I welcome ChatGPT because it forces us to confront these questions. It has the capacity to call the bluff on a society which is increasingly inclined to trade cliches, slogans and pre-digested ‘messaging’ and call that a conversation. Ultimately, it can call us to inhabit our words as human beings rather than hide behind them. Outsourcing your self-expression to a computer forces you to ask yourself what makes a human being. Where does the machine end and where do I begin? In what sense am I different from a machine?

If a machine can do your writing for you, or your speaking, it is actually doing your thinking for you. One of the first people to prise open the philosophical implications of this was Alan Turing (1912-1954), famous as the key contributor to the breaking of the enigma code at Bletchley Park during World War 2. To do this, he built a machine. But long before the war, he was thinking about what such a machine might mean for non-machines. In his essay ‘computable numbers’ (1936), he asked the very questions whose answers we are now struggling to comprehend.

He noted it was possible to build a machine that did your walking for you. The reason for this is that walking is a series of mechanical steps and these can be imitated by a machine such as a bike or a bus. Turing preferred bikes. Conversely, then, surely it is possible to create a machine that imitates thinking. The only condition is that thinking needs to be a series of material processes which can be imitated by a material device. He believed this was more than possible. If the main tool of thinking is language, he needed a language that a machine could understand and, of course, he found that in Leibnitz’ binary language, one with only two words, ‘om and ‘off’ or ‘0’ and ‘1’. When you send the most exquisite valentine message in an email, it has to be translated into a long series of ons and offs.

There is a great deal to unpack here but it is good to remember that in doing so we are unpacking ourselves. One of the most redoubtable philosophers in this field has been the late Mary Midgley, the celebrated adversary of Richard Dawkins. Midgley was part of an extraordinary group of women that included Iris Murdoch and Elizabeth Anscombe who were together at Oxford in the 1940s and who took philosophy into more humane and lively territory than where it had been languishing. Midgely published her final book, What is Philosophy For (2018) at the age of 98. Over many years, she thought in counterpoint to Turing. She came to believe that the future of any such notion as ‘human nature’ lay in less emphasis on the word human and more on the word nature. That is, the physicalist tendency of using machines to think, leads us to a deeper rediscovery of the creatureliness of our humanity. We are mortal, imperfect, original. Humans are not machines on legs. The mind is more than a product of its material parts.

We don’t just produce words in the way a baker produces bread. We exist in our self-expression. Our self-expression is soulful.

Of course, Valentine’s Day is the captive of lambent consumerism. It’s a great day for florists. It should be a great day for words as well because the challenge of expressing romantic love is as old as the hills and as mysterious as God.

Meanwhile, there is fun to be had. Please turn to your chatbot and ask it to produce a message in the style of Bob Dylan:

Oh my darling, let me be your guide

Through the winding roads of life, side by side.

With a voice as rough as the northern wind,

I’ll sing to you of love, again and again.





Michael McGirr is Mission Facilitator at Caritas Australia.

Main image: Vintage computer monitor with heart. (Getty images)

Topic tags: Michael McGirr, ChatGPT, AI, Valentine's Day, Authenticity, Creativity



submit a comment

Existing comments

I’ve always liked Nilsson Schmilsson. He was prescient about chatbots:
No, I can’t forget this evening
Your screen as you were leaving
But I guess that’s just the way the chatbot goes
You always have an answer but in your output
Your sorrow shows
Yes, it shows
I can live if living is without you

Pam | 09 February 2023  

Oh, Michael. you sum up the whole issue so elegantly. Yes, we are the soulful embodiment of the original and creative, that uniqueness of each and everyone of us. Our own words tell of who we are in the world.

Ann Rennie | 10 February 2023  

It may be that actions are far more meaningful and enduring than words. As Anne Rennie eloquently points out, "...we are the soulful embodiment of the original and creative ..." Perhaps the greatest expression of love is to be found in the words, "let us have a child.''

John Frawley | 10 February 2023  

Like mobile phones and computers in classrooms, just another instance of the atrophying of independent thinking and basic literacy and numeracy skills, and the success of corporate advertising and marketing which increasingly drives curriculum? Smart students are already asking: 'Apart from socialising, why will we need to come to school?'

John RD | 10 February 2023  

Two words, 'oM' and 'off'? How telling! The machine surely cannot imitate the human there!

Richard Jupp | 13 February 2023  

Not quite: 'Shall I compare thee to a summer day...' I wonder if overuse of this technology in those who are not used to anything else is causing an atrophy of feeling. If this is true, then what are the long-term consequences? Have we thought them through sufficiently? I fear not.

Edward Fido | 14 February 2023  

Similar Articles

In conversation with Helen Garner

  • Paul Mitchell
  • 17 February 2023

Arguably Australia’s most celebrated living author, Helen Garner has built a reputation as a fearless and unapologetic writer whose work has remained fresh and relevant for over 45 years. We sat down with Helen to explore the challenges of confessional non-fiction, her fondness for church, and her commitment to unsparing self-analysis. 


Conjurer of the Infinite: Memories of Mama

  • Binoy Kampmark
  • 15 February 2023

Mama was a master of the kitchen, revered for her culinary magic and domestic miracles. Her cooking was an unsurpassed conjurer of traditional Bosnian pita, a sublime miracle that drew the infinite from the minimal. Mama's death left a void of ignorance, indifference, and inability that hovered over the village, mourning the loss of an unassailable figure.