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Greetings from Paul Grondahl

A kickoff message from our director as we announce our 40th anniversary fall 2023 season.

Paul Grondahl and Bill McKibben at a packed-house event at the University at Albany in April of this year. (Photo credit: Patrick Dodson/UAlbany)

Paul Grondahl and Bill McKibben at a packed-house event at the University at Albany in April of this year. (Photo credit: Patrick Dodson/UAlbany)


I asked ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot that is taking the world by storm and threatening widespread disruption, to compose this director’s message for the fall season in our yearlong 40th anniversary celebration. I specified a “warm, friendly and informal” style.


In less than 10 seconds, ChatGPT generated seven paragraphs of prose, about 450 words. It sounded like a version of myself: part avatar, part AI bot, and part something that seems to be scaring the bejeezus out of wordsmiths everywhere.


“I am absolutely thrilled to welcome you all to the 40th anniversary fall season,” the ChatGPT greeting began. So far, so good. I liked this part: “We have nurtured a community that shares a passion for words, stories, and the power of the written word.” I gave a thumbs-up to “the magical connections that form between authors and readers, between fellow lovers of literature.”


Let us pause ChatGPT for now. This is the real me writing, verified me. This new AI tool should not frighten us. We ignore it at our peril. It is revolutionary.


At the Writers Institute, even as we revere our past and honor the classics, we embrace new and diverse voices, create programming that challenges conventional wisdom, host conversations about inconvenient truths, and celebrate writers who push into new frontiers of language and storytelling. And so it shall be with AI.


What does this have to with literature, you might be asking. We are leaning into AI as a vital part of the University at Albany and its bold move of hiring 27 new faculty members specializing in artificial intelligence. It is part of an ambitious plan called AI Plus to incorporate elements of AI teaching and research across all academic programs.


Our role in this unprecedented new initiative is to explore the ways in which AI is already being used by storytellers in various genres. For instance, we will host novelist and journalist Vauhini Vara who has covered technology for the Wall Street Journal and written extensively on Artificial Intelligence. Her sci-fi/dystopian novel, The Immortal King Rao, explores AI and was a finalist for the 2023 Pulitzer Prize.


We’re also bringing fiction writer and screenwriter Alexander Weinstein, who adapted his short story, “Saying Goodbye to Yang” into the film “After Yang,” set in a near-future of artificial intelligence, social media implants, and intuitive robots.


We are presenting nearly three dozen events in this 40th anniversary fall season. Acclaimed author Richard Russo kicks it off, with a band and desserts. It includes our 6th annual Albany Book Festival; a panel discussion on free speech; three events focusing on Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi classic, Fahrenheit 451; and the 5th edition of our “Telling the Truth” symposium.


I’ll cede the last words to ChatGPT:


“Here's to a season that will touch our souls, broaden our horizons, and remind us why we fell in love with the written word in the first place.”


Paul Grondahl

Opalka Endowed Director, NYS Writers Institute


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