This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
“It’s the thought that counts.”
For some reason, I’ve always struggled giving people gifts they actually want. A few people have said it’s because I’m “too practical,” and others have nicely accused me of simply being clueless.
It’s not that I don’t try.
I remember as a kid getting my mom a used rake for her birthday. I thought it would be helpful, but I’m pretty sure she was disappointed. I had the brilliant idea of buying my wife a new car battery for our anniversary. She was grateful, but eventually admitted that she didn’t view replacing her car battery as an actual gift.
And last year, I gave our kid a cool paperweight. It only occurred to me a couple of weeks later that in today’s digital world kids probably don’t have any real use for one of these, no matter how cool it is.
Hence, every year when the holidays roll around, the pressure’s on not to repeat my gifting mistakes of the past. And though I always try, it seems like more often than not I fail.
But this year’s different.
I have a secret weapon at my disposal that promises to solve my life-long struggle. There’s a question though: Is it ethical for me to use it?
As a tech guy, using technology to make life easier has been my life’s calling. Whether writing software to automate a complex process or investing in the latest and greatest tech gadgets at home—when it comes to using technology to save time and money, I’m all in.
So, when I pulled up ChatGPT’s super popular AI (artificial intelligence) bot and asked it “What presents should I get my family for the holidays?” I was thrilled to have it jump in and help.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out ChatGPT, just Google it and sign in to see what a powerful tool it is. You can pretty much have a conversation (with a computer) about anything.
It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good. It’s like having an expert to talk to about every topic from what gift to buy for a family member to how the Theory of Relativity works on Mars.
After asking me a few questions about each member of my family, it came back with a pretty good list of gifts tailored to each of their hobbies, ages, and interests. When I asked it to “help me find the lowest price for each item” the AI bot took less than 5 seconds to come back with links to e-commerce websites I could buy from.
Problem solved! With ChatGPT doing my holiday shopping for me, my gifts were sure to be a hit.
But like many issues surrounding AI, I wondered if using an AI bot to do my holiday shopping was good or bad.
On one hand, it saved me a ton of time, and there was a pretty good chance that the gifts it recommended were better than ones I would have chosen myself.
But on the other hand, how impersonal is it to rely on a machine to buy presents for your spouse and kids?
After some deep soul searching, I closed the ChatGPT window.
Despite my love of tech and automation, I realized that although automation and efficiencies can be great, they also can take over tasks that are supposed to have more meaning.
Tasks like writing a book, drawing a piece of art, and yes, doing holiday shopping are personal. And passing them off to online robots takes the joy out of the experience, as well as the pride in doing something creative, even if it’s only picking out the perfectly imperfect gift.
So once again, I am on my own. I’m thinking about getting a garden hose for my parents, a typewriter for the kids, and a pet rock for my wife. Happy shopping!