VIII: Truffle

Truffle oil : truffles :: machine writing : writers

VIII: Truffle
A sliced truffle. Photo by amirali mirhashemian / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is octidi, the 28th of Frimaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate la truffe, a smelly and fun little guy who hides under the ground.

So, truffe also means the nose of an animal – typically a dog or a pig – specifically the front of the snout that is hairless around the nostrils, what is scientifically called the rhinarium. You'll encounter some people who say truffles, the fungus, are named after the nose, because it takes a dog's or pig's nose to find them. But it's the opposite! The word was originally applied to the fungus in Shakespearean times, and is derived from the Latin for "edible tuber" (so, basically, potato, which the French named "ground apple" because truffe was taken), and then applied to dog snouts because black dog snouts look like truffles, and it spread to other animals from there.

A blog called Dynomight recently pondered what analogy would eventually best describe how artificial intelligence will change the nature of writing. Will machine writing be disruptive like mass production, irrelevant like chess robots, a low-end product like prefabricated housing, an entirely different medium like photography, or something else? It's a fascinating exercise that I recommend reading if you have a few more minutes this morning.

And it got me to thinking about it. My guess is that machine writers (also known as large language model machines, or LLMs) will be economically disruptive, but always considered a deceptive practice and an inferior product, and a market will continue to thrive for human writing. My analogy is that LLMs will be to writing as truffle oil is to truffles.

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