Words as Magic: From Ancient Genies to Modern AI Chatbots

Why Does ChatGPT Captivate Us?

ChatGPT has taken the world by storm ever since it was released in late 2022.  While its technical capabilities are impressive, the same is true of many other apps that haven’t touched us so deeply. I believe the reason is ChatGPT’s unique ability to tap into our fascination with the power of words.

The Innate Human Connection to the Power of Words

At our core, we are storytellers. Language is more than just a tool; it’s woven into our history, culture, and identity. It’s how we make sense of the world, express ourselves, and share our stories. In the past, our ancestors used language to explain natural phenomena, pass down traditions, and entertain.

Stories connect us, express our feelings, and let us share experiences. From ancient cave paintings to today’s novels, storytelling has evolved. Think about the Greeks – they used myths not only to explain things like thunderstorms but also to teach important lessons.

Moreover, language helps us understand the world and communicate complex ideas. Scientists use it to describe their discoveries and advance knowledge in various fields. 

But language isn’t important to us only for conveying information; it holds a special place in our hearts because of the magical ability of words to influence the world around us. Throughout history, people have gathered around campfires, in theaters, and in front of screens to hear captivating tales of beings who not only wield immense power, perform superhuman feats, and outwit death, but also offer a vision of worlds where vulnerability to illness, injury, and death can be overcome. From ancient Greek dramas to today’s TV series, stories don’t just transport us to different realms where the possible is realized as a form of escapism; they also provide glimpses of our own potential — suggesting that perhaps, in our lives too, we might harness the power of words to become stronger, more successful, and more powerful than we ever imagined.

Historical Precedence of Words as Power

Words possess an extraordinary power—a power that extends far beyond mere storytelling. They have the potential to profoundly shape our perception of reality and our capacity to effect change.

This belief in the power of spoken words is not confined to any particular era or culture. It transcends time and borders, leaving its mark in the annals of history and diverse societies. It finds expression in sacred texts revered across religions and cultures. Consider the Christian Bible’s Gospel of John, which declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These words emphasize the divine nature of language, portraying it as a conduit for God’s will and intentions. Across various religious traditions, the spoken word of God is perceived as possessing immense authority. This belief is vividly illustrated in the Genesis narrative, where God’s spoken word brings the world into existence.

The Arabian tales of genies emerging from lamps offer a captivating glimpse into the enduring faith in the power of words. These stories portray genies as obediently following every verbal command of their liberator, a testament to the belief in words’ transformative potential.

Words are more than tools for communication; they are architects of reality. They enable us to convey our thoughts, emotions, and ideas. However, their impact transcends these fundamental functions. Words shape our very understanding of the world and our ability to effect meaningful change. This belief in their profound influence is ingrained in our collective consciousness, transcending cultural boundaries and fundamentally influencing the way we navigate our world.

Modern Interpretations of Language Magic

From ancient myths to modern media, the captivating influence of words in shaping our world remains a timeless fascination. Take, for instance, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, where Harry discovers an array of spells, including “Alohomora,” a simple incantation that unlocks doors. Here, words become a tool for controlling one’s environment, vividly illustrating their transformative potential. Similarly, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, words possess a mystical quality within the enchanting realm of Middle Earth. Elvish incantations have the power to summon light in the darkest of caves, altering our perception of reality itself.

Modern literature and cinema enthusiastically continue to explore this age-old concept. An excellent example in today’s popular culture is the enduring fascination with magical superheroes like Marvel’s Dr. Strange. Through incantations and spoken words, Dr. Strange wields the power to reshape reality, underscoring society’s continued awe at the potential held within words.

The belief that words possess the ability to shape our world remains a central theme in contemporary narratives. Whether it’s unlocking doors, summoning light, or redefining reality, the enduring power of words continues to captivate audiences across various forms of media.

The Rise of LLMs and The Allure of AI

Large Language Models (LLMs), with ChatGPT as a prominent example, have emerged as integral players in the realm of language and artificial intelligence. These advanced AI systems have undergone extensive training on massive textual datasets, enabling them to craft responses that mirror human-like interactions and engage in meaningful conversations.

Although part of the fascination with Large Language Models (LLMs) stems from their remarkable ability to engage in two-way conversations using natural language, I contend that there is more at play. In particular, commanding an LLM can feel like wielding a wizard’s wand; with a simple incantation in the form of a written prompt, fast power unfurls at your fingertips.  I felt this too, in a simpler form, the first time I wrote a single line of code in BASIC over 40 years ago.  I felt that same rush of adrenaline the first time I used ChatGPT.

Despite all that has been said and will be said about the technical capacities of LLMs, I think an unspoken reason that they captivate us is because of this way in which they tap into and resonate with our deep desire for our words to possess the power the influence our world.  It is this feeling in us, and not the objective technical capabilities of LLMs, that explains so much of why LLMs have captured the world’s attention ever since the release of ChatGPT.


Throughout history, humans have remained spellbound by the enchanting power of words. From ancient incantations to wish-granting genies and modern interactions with chatbots, our enduring fascination with the magic of language persists. Words captivate not only as conveyors of information but also for their potential to influence our world.

Consider the concept of wishes that are made to genies. In folklore and myth, genies bestow their blessings upon those who possess their magic lamps or bottles. Whispers of desires are believed to possess the potent ability to mold reality itself. This belief in words’ change-bringing prowess reflects humanity’s timeless fascination with language.

In the contemporary digital era, language models like Large Language Models (LLMs) and chatbots tap deep into this age-old fascination. LLMs, exemplified by ChatGPT, stand as advanced AI systems trained on vast textual data. They seamlessly craft coherent and contextually fitting responses to text prompts.

Chatbots, harnessed from the power of LLMs, such as ChatGPT, facilitate conversations with AI-driven entities. These entities not only comprehend our queries but also provide informed responses—such as furnishing weather information based on their expansive training data. This interaction serves as a testament to words’ potential, empowering us to shape our understanding of the world.

As language communication methods evolve, our fascination with word magic persists. It signifies an unwavering desire to command, converse, and connect through language’s enchantment. Whether we find ourselves whispering wishes to genies or engaging in dialogues with chatbots, the belief in the transformative power of words endures as a fundamental facet of our human experience.

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