Both Cambridge and Merriam-Webster dictionaries have announced their Word of the Year for 2023.  Cambridge chose “hallucinate” while Merriam-Webster gave the nod to “authentic.”  

Cambridge’s traditional definition of hallucinate has been “to seem to see, hear, feel, or smell something that does not exist.”  It now includes “when an artificial intelligence (AI) hallucinates, it produces false information.”  This definition was added after a year-long surge in interest in generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Bard and Grok.  AI ethicist Dr. Henry Shevlin said it was “a snapshot of how we’re thinking about and anthropomorphizing AI.”  He added, “Inaccurate or misleading information has long been with us, of course, whether in the form of rumors, propaganda, or fake news.”  

Cambridge Dictionary’s publishing manager noted, “The fact that AIs can hallucinate reminds us that humans still need to bring their critical thinking skills to the use of these tools. AIs are fantastic at churning through huge amounts of data to extract specific information and consolidate it – but the more original you ask them to be, the likelier they are to go astray.” 

As I pondered this usage of hallucinate, I came to realize just how much cultural change has influenced the meanings of words.  Whatever happened to lying or simply not telling the truth?  In the eighth commandment God instructs us, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 22:16).  Luther instructs us in his catechism, “We do not deceitfully lie, betray, gossip about, or slander our neighbors.”  False or misleading information is simply a lie that God forbids.  Is not AI-led “hallucinating” bearing false witness or leading others astray?   

Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster, observed, “We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity.  What we realize is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more.”  2023 has been a year of AI impacting our culture.  ChatGPT (and its maker OpenAI) seem to be suffering from a credibility crisis, raising questions of authenticity.  “We sometimes don’t believe our own eyes or our own ears,” suggests Sokolowski.  “We are now recognizing that authenticity is a performance itself.”

In this regard the Merriam-Webster dictionary struggles to define authenticity.  It includes the following: “not false or imitation: real, actual” – “true to one’s own personality, spirit or character” –  “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact” – “made or done the same way as an original” –  “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.”  I wonder – what is “original” and “fact?”  Do we make up what is real, or is there a basis for all of reality?

To know what is “fact,” that is, what makes up reality, we need to go back to the beginning and the Creator.  We read in John, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Earlier John tells us, “Through him all things were made.” (1:3).  Knowing Jesus will continually give a sense of what is authentic.  James Huston reminds us, “You are never more authentic than when you are in Christ.” And the apostle Paul tells us “reality… is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17).

Men, we are going to be more and more influenced by AI.  So, beware of misinformation and the lack of authenticity influencing you.  These words of the year remind us to be truthful and live authentic lives.  Jesus words: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).