Monday, January 29, 2024

“RoboJJ” Writes the Blog? What Does This Mean??!!

Oh my, this post marks the thirteenth anniversary of the launching of this blog. And I am marking it with an experiment. I’m turning things over to “RoboJJ”… aaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!

Not really. These words are being written by me, as an introduction to my “virtual secretary/editor,” an AI app that allows me to verbally dictate my thoughts and then arranges them into an organized text. Actually it offers a variety of format options. Then, of course, I can go back and edit personally, add, change, rearrange, and do whatever I want with the words on the page. I am also given a direct transcript of my spoken words which I can also refer to.

RoboJJ (my term for this technological assistance) does not have “intelligence” in the proper sense of the term, nor will it ever have such intelligence. AI technology doesn’t even have the organic “sense cognition” that higher animals possess, by which they perceive and respond to their environment according to the path of their instincts and also “spontaneously” toward realities that accord with their natures.


AI is a highly refined mechanism for data organization. I think that this kind of “organization” could be useful to me here on this blog, which is my “writing (and artistic) workshop.” Let’s see how it works. The first segment of text (in brown type) is the transcript of my spoken words that I “recorded” while laying in my bed as I began to recover from a flare-up of ill health—there was some flu involved, I think. Then, in blue type, I present one of RoboJJ’s condensed versions (the one most suited to a blog post). I am far from satisfied with it, but it might be useful for drafting and organizing a written text. I have lots of things I can be prompted to gab about, but I find it hard to put them in writing.

First, this is the real me, talking in my own words. Here is the transcript [lightly edited] of my verbal ramble:

My name is John Janaro. I am 61 years old. As long as I can remember, I have been communicating my thoughts through writing, starting as a child with pencil and pen and typewriter, moving on to working on the editorial team of my high school newspaper, literally cutting and pasting, then writing my first book…

First, actually, then going to college, writing a lot of term papers and a senior thesis, two senior theses, actually, and then going to graduate school, writing more papers and eventually writing a dissertation, and then along the way, writing my first book. 

All that gets me up to around 1992. Then I began teaching, and I was involved with teaching until my illness, which forced me into retirement from the classroom in 2008. Because of ill health, I have a hard time making public lectures and having the stamina for all of that preparation and consideration and organization and intensity of presentation that I require for my classroom environment. Actually, I have a hard time doing much of anything that requires sustained, consistent effort. So I “retired” (also, by then I had published my second book in 2003). 

Then I published my third book about my illness and difficulties and struggles, and how my faith in Christ sustained me. That was in 2010. The book is called Never Give Up: My Life and God’s Mercy. For the past decade, I have also published a monthly column in Magnificat called “Great Conversion Stories.

In 2011, I started to keep a blog. This very blog that you're reading now was begun, golly, 13 years ago. It's kind of mind-blowing. Of course, you've seen everything in this blog. If you've had the patience to follow this blog from the beginning, you've seen my life change in many ways. You’ve seen the kids grow up. You’ve seen marriages and grandchildren. You’ve seen me grieve the deaths of both my parents.

You’ve also seen me hammering out ideas in various forms, in a not-always-felicitous writing style. I'm a good writer, but I tend to stretch sentences on, have too many subordinate clauses, have three or four adjectives instead of one. Basically, I have never encountered a simple thought that I was not capable of turning into a complex expression of lots of things. It may be very interesting, maybe full of fruitful possibilities, but often it’s very wordy. 

Sometimes I just feel too tired to write now. I feel like I don't have the energy to put my ideas together. I've kind of gotten less involved, and have slowed down in writing. Nevertheless, sometimes I'll sit down and I'll write a very long post. Sometimes, I'll work for days on a post where there's important ideas that I want to hammer out. And I get stuck and go back. I just keep writing until I think, well, this is good enough to put out there because it's just a blog post. That's the way it goes. Sometimes, I revisit old posts, hammer them into better shape, and continue refining the same ideas. 

You reach a point in a life of philosophical reflection when you realize that you have a few ideas that are interesting. Then, basically, you just keep refining them more and more. That's all you can manage in the course of a single human life. I'm at this point now. I want to give my “two small coins”…which are very small indeed.

Of course, I've been witnessing revolutions in technological media since I was a child. Like I say, I went from pencil to typewriter, to word processor, to internet. I went from submitting articles to newspapers, magazines, whatever, to being successfully published, and then, finally, not having to depend on anybody but just “publishing myself” in this blog. But I would like to organize a lot of the thoughts from these 13 years into something more digestible, topically or in terms of what's most insightful. 

Again, this is a big job. How can I put that all together by myself? 

Most recently, we've seen, most recently, of course, in the last few years, this technology of, I don't know, I guess I would call it artificial data coordination. It doesn’t rise to the philosophical meaning of intelligence, neither in a proper spiritual sense, which is the human intellect, nor even the sense-cogitational capacity of higher animals. You're just dealing with very sophisticated technology that works with language and associations and connections and coordinates things together, not really knowing what it's doing, of course. That's the artificial feature, as is also the vocal process, which is the method I'm using right now by speaking. The vocal process is data, which is translated into written data, which is coordinated and shuffled around and represented. 

But the taking of observations, articulating them into ideas which crystallize real experience, and in turn, moving forward through judgments, intellectual judgments, to new understanding: that’s the process that I know that the new technology cannot do for me. It cannot replace the human mind. But what I'm testing today, in this late hour of my life, relatively speaking, is whether or not this new technology can be useful as a kind of “secretary.” This is the first blog post I've ever done in this manner. I'll have to decide whether or not I want to show you a transcript of the original audio rumination and compare it to the resulting artificially polished version. Although, of course, I'll probably go and polish the polished version, edit it, make it read better. On the other hand, that's part of what the program proposes to do for you, so it will be interesting to see if that would work. 

I tend to “think around” things. I tend to have a topic in mind, and I look at it from different perspectives, examining different aspects of it. I go around it. I analyze it from various points of view, according to certain features, and then according to other features. I’m searching for the unity and harmony of things. I look at something like writing, and I think, oh, writing is a work in which you try to organize your ideas and communicate them. You try to do so in a manner which is clear, convincing, and also beautiful in its prose style. As far as anybody cares about that anymore, a beautiful prose style is something that I would at least aspire to, and I have been able to achieve beautiful style in the past. That's one way of looking at writing. 

Another way is to say, how can writing be made easier for me in a time in which I have less energy and I need more assistance at work? I wish I had a secretary who would just take notes on all my ruminations and organize them, or, at least, get them back to me in some more coherent form. It's like, well, hello, now we have technology that claims to be able to fill that sort of role, so here it is. I'm able to do as much as 20 minutes of talking in one note. I’m thinking about whether I should just run this thing all through 20 minutes and see what it sounds like, looks like, whatever. 

It would be a tremendous thing if this works well. I have so many things in my head, so many things I think about. If I could just “think out loud” and get organized, that would be an extremely helpful tool. I hope that it would always remain a tool for me, that it would not become a substitute for real writing. I know something of the power of AI, of these various forms of data manipulation technology. I've seen how they work with graphics. You guys who read the blog, you also see the “artistic workshop” that has developed here. The basis is photography, usually using my own photographs, and then I work with the digital technology that allows artistic changes to be made and introduces various—sometimes surprising—possibilities. 

Imagery just becomes a more “plastic” kind of material. That's why I have often referred to my digital artworks as “sculpture,” rather than as painting (because no matter what the apps say, there's no real painting involved). There is, however, matter involved. It is sometimes remarkable, things just come from the material itself that I'm working with. For example, a certain application allows you to give the image a rough exterior look, so you can integrate that in. Maybe I wasn't originally planning for that kind of look, but now that I see it, I like it. I like what it does for the picture that I'm working on, which is maybe a view of the mountains. I integrate that into my “sculpture.” It's a process of discovery as well as creative expression: finding many ways to portray this extensive piece of imagery, allowing the technology to expand the material element that I'm working with. 

I tend to keep working on it forever. I can make 100 different versions of the same picture. Often, I can't decide which one I prefer. As a result, my storage is full of pictures that have never been finished. But some of them do get finished. As you know, some of them end up on the blog. Well, this is a long way of saying that I am familiar with how this AI technology works: this power of manipulating digital data, this mixing and mashing up and organizing of visual media. How it works with the written word is a question that remains to be explored. 

In the beginning of 2024, in my 62nd year of life, I'm going to launch out into this brave new world. Well, maybe there’s another way of putting it, but using this phrase indicates that I am aware of the dangers on this path. But—asking the Lord for poverty of spirit—I'm going to launch out into these possibilities and see what can be done with them. I mean, I can sit here and talk about China or East Asia or media technology or theological thought and speculation or political or cultural philosophy or some of my dearest ideas that I have in various areas. I could talk about those and turn them into something that would be useful that could be communicated to other people in a coherent way. That'd be great. 

That's obviously what a teacher always wants to do. It's sort of the dead end I ran into as a teacher in a lecture hall at a certain point in my life. You know, if this were a 20-minute lecture, I don't know how interesting it would be (once upon a time, it probably would have been a lot clearer). But the fact is, my lectures were always best when they were in text form, which I could then read from in an engaged manner and digress from when I felt inclined. 

This technological tool/method could be very helpful in many ways at this point in my life. Hopefully, I can get a lot of the stuff out of my head while I'm still around to do it, so that it can benefit other people.

Okay, I did tinker with the transcript more than I thought I would, but it retains its spoken, off-the-cuff form. Now, in blue type, here is what RoboJJ came up with (again with some light editing). It’s “concise” for sure, but I still feel the need for more detail. A lot of my “thinking around” things is left out, and I do want to keep some of that.

But you can read it yourself and see what you think:

My name is John Janaro and I have always expressed my thoughts through writing. From childhood with pencil and typewriter, to working on my high school newspaper, to writing books and academic papers. Teaching was my passion until my illness forced me into retirement in 2008. Due to my health, I struggle with public lectures and the preparation required for my classroom environment. I retired after publishing my second book in 2003 and wrote a book about my illness and how my faith sustained me in 2010. 

In 2011, I started this blog, which you are reading now. It's been 13 years and life has changed in many ways: you've witnessed the growth of my children, marriages, grandchildren, and the deaths of my parents. You’ve also seen the ongoing evolution of my writing style. I tend to be wordy and sometimes lack simplicity. Lately, I've been feeling tired and lacking the energy to put my ideas together. I've slowed down in writing, but occasionally I'll write a long post after days of working on it. Sometimes I revisit and refine my ideas. As I've grown older, I've realized that I have a few interesting ideas that I continue to refine. 

Throughout my life, I've witnessed technological advancements in media, from pencil to typewriter to the internet. Now, I'm testing whether this new AI technology can be useful as a kind of secretary. This is my first blog post using this method and I'm curious to see if it can help me organize my thoughts. Writing is about organizing ideas and communicating them clearly and beautifully. I aspire to achieve a beautiful prose style. I wish I had a secretary to take notes on my ruminations and organize them for me. Now, this technology claims to be able to fill that role. I can speak for up to 20 minutes and have it transcribed. It could be a tremendous tool to help me organize my thoughts. I hope it remains a tool and doesn't replace real writing. I'm familiar with how digital technology works with graphics and have seen the artistic possibilities it offers. I integrate digital elements into my image-based “virtual sculptures,” often creating multiple versions of the same picture without being satisfied with any of them. Some get finished and end up on the blog. 

Now, I want to explore how this technology can work with the written word. In 2024, at the age of 61, entrusting myself to the Lord, I'm going to venture into this new world of word-tech and see what can be done with it. I can talk about various topics and turn them into coherent pieces that can be communicated to others. This tool could be very helpful at this point in my life. I hope to get all the thoughts out of my head while I still can, so that they can benefit others.

Eh, so? The app offers other “versions” (longer or—believe it or not—shorter) to the point of being maybe a little creepy. Yikes, what am I doing? What if RoboJJ takes over my mind? What if AI takes over…the world? Aren’t we supposed to worry about that?

AI is technological power, developed for many complex reasons by human beings with all their mysterious seeking of greatness and their confused desires and their ambivalence. It is like everything else in the world, like every human invention, like the technologies we are surrounded with every day. We can’t run away. But we must be aware, we must attend to ourselves (and our neighbors) as irreplaceable persons, and we must beg for wisdom. Power brings possibilities for terrible evils, but also possibilities for great goods.

This AI tech is a possibility that I should explore in this world that I have been given, in these circumstances of life in 2024. So I say, “Veni Sancte Spiritus / Veni Per Mariam.” Come Holy Spirit. Everything for your glory, Jesus, through Mary. Then I move forward, with eyes open, in the communion of the Church and with the help of my friends, with the new mentality through which the Holy Spirit enables me to seek the value of all human things according to the glorified humanity of Jesus. He has taken hold of my life and is transforming my heart.

Whatever storms may come, He is here. So I can go forward with confidence and hope, remaining with Him, trusting in Him.