ChatGPT use for wedding vows, eulogies stokes dispute over authenticity

AI could reshape life's most intimate moments, experts said.

November 11, 2023, 5:06 AM

When Tori McCun found out that her father had suddenly died in June, grief and stress sapped her resolve to write a eulogy, she said. Despite the misgivings of her three sisters, McCun turned to ChatGPT.

McCun, 31, a data management specialist at Bloomberg, prompted the textbot to ask questions about her dad, eliciting memories from her and her siblings which she fed back into ChatGPT for a draft speech, she said. After some fine-tuning, McCun delivered the eulogy and received a glowing response.

Her sisters are still uneasy about the decision to use ChatGPT, McCun said.

"Engaging something so non-human in such a human moment is hard for people to comprehend," said McCun, who lives in New York City.

The disagreement between McCun and her siblings exemplifies a wider cultural moment. ChatGPT has exploded over the past year, and using the technology has tested norms and raised questions around the importance of authenticity for some of life's emotional moments, such as wedding vows, apologies and eulogies, according to experts in technology and ethics who spoke with ABC News.

In the coming years, AI could reshape conventions around emotionally charged messages, the experts said.

Generative AI, a category of digital tools that create written or other content, has surged in use since the release of ChatGPT to the public a year ago. The chatbot now boasts more than 100 million weekly users, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman announced on Monday.

To be sure, generative AI tools are open to the internet with few guardrails and users who input content into them, including details about loved ones, potentially open themselves up to false information and identity theft.

ChatGPT scans billions of pieces of digital text and uses an algorithm to string words together in response to a human prompt. OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

The use of ChatGPT for sensitive messages has occasionally stoked controversy. In February, Vanderbilt University apologized for the use of ChatGPT to compose an email to students about a mass shooting at another university.

When venture capitalist Vinod Khosla told 600,000 followers on X last month that he had used ChatGPT to write a rap song for his daughter's wedding, the post drew both praise and derision.

The phrase "ChatGPT apology" has become social media shorthand in reference to apparently inauthentic expressions of public remorse.

The individuals ABC News spoke to for this story, who said they used ChatGPT for these types of emotional messages, said the technology allowed them to overcome the anxiety induced by a blank page and the expectation of eloquence in high-pressure moments. Startups have launched customized AI tools that help compose intimate notes such as wedding vows.

Melissa Buckley, the owner of a cosmetics business in Reading, Pennsylvania, said she used ChatGPT last month for help writing the script of a 3-minute video congratulating her stepson on his marriage.

"I was really busy at the time because we were moving offices," Buckley told ABC News. "I just didn't have the mental capacity to sit down and think about what I wanted to say."

After providing ChatGPT with details about the task and her stepson, Buckley said the tool produced an AI-written speech from which she pulled out key points and recited them in her own words, she said. The video, she noted, was well received.

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, speaks during The Wall Street Journal's WSJ Tech Live Conference in Laguna Beach, California on Oct. 17, 2023.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"There's a little bit of stigma that I shortcutted it but it really wasn't a shortcut," Buckley said. "ChatGPT is only going to give you what you put into it. If you give it more specifics, that means you personally took the time to put the thought into it."

Andrea Lynch, who sells eulogy-writing kits with advice for the use of generative AI, said she considers the technology an aid rather than a replacement. She advises clients to adapt the AI-written draft with their own speech patterns.

"I've realized that it's not a substitute for a human being," Lynch told ABC News. "I think if somebody is really searching for a way to communicate a sentiment and struggling to find the right words, particularly in times of high emotion, they sometimes could use some help."

But one study suggests that the use of AI in personal messages draws skepticism from recipients. Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that the use of AI for help writing apologies is perceived as less authentic and reduces the likelihood that the author will be forgiven.

The researchers presented participants with a scenario in which a colleague who speaks a different first language uses AI tools, such as translation or sentence completion, to help compose an apology. When given identical apologies, participants who were told that the writer had used the AI tools were less likely to believe that it conveyed genuine emotion.

Omri Asscher, a co-author of the study, said he suspects that the same perception of phoniness would apply to other messages like eulogies and wedding vows.

"The machines are perceived as less capable of doing that emotional work," Asscher said. "They're perceived to be faulty in terms of their moral authenticity."

Differing opinions about the use of ChatGPT for intimate messages touches on a tension between two competing objectives fulfilled by them, Alice MacLachlan, a philosophy professor at Toronto-based York University who specializes in the ethics of apology, told ABC News.

Such communications are expected to be heartfelt expressions of direct emotion but also carefully crafted pieces of writing replete with rhetorical flourish, MacLachlan said.

"On the one hand, if I'm asking AI to write an apology for me, it's not from my heart -- it's from the mixed-up word salad of a generative language collector," MacLachlan said. "On the other hand, there's a sense that an apology is something we craft. We want to do a good job of it."

Ultimately, generative AI could reshape the way we view intimate communications, just as it has made college professors rethink what they glean from student essays, MacLachlan said.

While using these tools for heartfelt speeches may cause rifts between loved ones, it could also allow less-adept writers to better articulate their deepest feelings, she added.

"It's unclear anymore how much we can use authored text as a measure of something, whether it's a learning objective, a change of heart or a declaration of love," MacLachlan said. "But I like the idea that language has power and that power might be shared more equitably."