Algorithmic Apathy: American Psycho Meets ChatGPT

Karela Palazio

ChatGPT is remarkably good at producing well-articulated content that implies it has truly “thought” about the given prompt. When I asked whether Harvard was better than Yale, it returned the astute observation that “it is not fair to compare universities solely based on their prestige or reputation” and gave a high school counselor-like recommendation to consider a variety of factors when choosing a college. Clearly, ChatGPT still lacks the full mental function necessary to reach the obvious answer: Yale. ChatGPT’s responses are plausible but mindless. It misses a certain je ne sais quoi of human thought. ChatGPT can produce a convincing pastiche of a middle school book report but its algorithmic precision seems only able to express repetitive, uninspired, Mad Lib-like thoughts. In fact, its boilerplate responses seem to be phrased as inoffensively, averagely, and superficially as possible.

As I interacted with ChatGPT, its conformist, indifferent tone began to remind me of Patrick Bateman, the fictional investment-banker-turned-serial-killer played by Christian Bale in the 2000 film American Psycho. In one scene, Bateman monologues on world problems to fellow Manhattan banker Timothy Bryce. He explains that we need to “stop terrorism and world hunger. We have to provide food and shelter for the homeless, and oppose racial discrimination and promote civil rights, while also promoting equal rights for women,” concluding by emphasizing that “we have to promote general social concern and less materialism in young people.” Though it seems like a strange speech for him to give while dining at one of New York’s decadent restaurants, what is most striking is Bateman’s impersonal, robotic tone and the banality of his advice. It’s not clear how Bateman, a murderous lunatic, understands the need to “return to traditional moral values” or “promote general social concern.” Bateman doesn’t provide food or shelter for homeless people, but he does stab one in an alley. 

When I asked ChatGPT for advice on solving the world’s problems, it returned a frighteningly similar monologue. ChatGPT wants humanity to “find innovative solutions and work towards shared goals.” It reminds us to be mindful of “personal actions and lifestyle choices,” for example “reducing energy use and waste, supporting ethical and sustainable businesses, and engaging in environmentally-friendly practices.” You can almost hear Bateman’s unnerving cadence in the ramblings of ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence. OpenAI’s data-driven advice produces eerily inane platitudes. When I asked how to solve world hunger, I was given six paragraphs instructing us to grow more, waste less. Another five paragraphs describe “a few ways that equal rights for women can be promoted.” The AI sounds disinterested, elementary, and vaguely mocking, an unsettling combination that leaves the reader unsatisfied. When I asked the program to describe the problem with modern society from the perspective of Patrick Bateman, ChatGPT politely refused, telling me that would be an inappropriate use of its language model. Fittingly, when asked to comment on American Psycho, ChatGPT tells us to “approach the film with an open mind and be aware of its controversial themes.” Let’s just say I’m not eager to let the algorithm get its hands on a chainsaw anytime soon.

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