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A woodcut of a gentleman at a writing table, staring down at a sheaf of papers. His head has been replaced with the menacing eye of HAL9000 from Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.' The paper is covered in the green 'code waterfall' from the Wachowskis' 'The Matrix.'

This week on my podcast, I read my latest Locus column. “Plausible Sentence Generators,” about my surprising, accidental encounter with a chatbot, and what it says about the future of the bullshit wars.

When I came back to the tab a couple minutes later, I found that the site had fed my letter to a large language model (probably ChatGPT) and that it had been transformed into an eye-watering, bowel-loosening, vicious lawyer letter.

Hell, it scared me.

Let’s get one thing straight. This was a very good lawyer-letter, but it wasn’t good writing. Legal threat letters are typically verbose, obfuscated and supercilious (legal briefs are even worse: stilted and stiff and full of tortured syntax).

This letter read like a $600/hour paralegal working for a $1,500/hour white-shoe lawyer had drafted it. That’s what made it a good letter: it sent a signal, “The person who sent this letter is willing to spend $600 just to threaten you. They are seriously pissed, and willing to spend a lot of money to make sure you know it.” Like a cat’s tail standing on end or a dog’s hackles rising, the letter’s real point isn’t found in its text. The real point is the threat display itself.


(Image: Cryteria, CC BY 3.0, modified)