King Arthur Baking is no match for ChatGPT. Who’s next?

The latest victim of the generative AI era?

King Arthur.

No, not the legendary figure who, if he lived, has been dead for 1,487 years (source: Perplexity.ai).

I meant the bakers.

Since the pandemic started, they’ve guided millions of home-based bakers (and probably quite a few professionals) via their adept social following (they’re at more than 900,000 followers on Instagram alone, with 6-figure followings on Pinterest and YouTube), plus their robust web-based recipe catalog, and their print cookbooks (I own two).

Seeing their brand name on products in a store is a seal of quality; you know you’re getting the good stuff if it’s King Arthur.

But can they survive the age of AI?

My own experience this weekend makes me nervous for them, and for so many others.

I hosted a birthday party for my cats. They turned three. E-cards are welcome. Make them out to Buddy and Cash.

My daughter had some friends over, and she wanted to bake sugar cookies using her cat cookie cutters.

But what recipe? We always go back to the Toll House recipe for chocolate chip cookies, but we don’t have the same option for sugar cookies.

So, I opened the “King Arthur Baking Companion” print cookbook and found the sugar cookie recipe.

It described how to make the perfect cookie. I’m sure of it. But it called for ingredients like shortening, buttermilk or sour milk, and nutmeg – none of which I had. And it all seemed a bit much for kids’ sugar cookies. I wanted a homemade version of the stuff you’d get out of a tube in the dairy aisle – not the final course at a Jean-Georges restaurant. Plus, I didn’t have time for shopping.

I figured I’d skip web searching and give ChatGPT a shot. Prompt engineers could come up with more sophisticated inputs, but I like my prompts like I like my cookies – sweet and simple. I opened the mobile app and entered:

“Best ever sugar cookie recipe?”

Five words.

That’s the point of ChatGPT and its promise. You shouldn’t need a degree in linguistics to operate it.

Sure enough, ChatGPT responded, “For a truly delightful sugar cookie experience, this recipe balances simplicity with the richness of flavor, perfect for decorating or enjoying on their own. The key to these cookies is the use of real butter and pure vanilla extract, which provide a depth of flavor that’s hard to beat. Here’s a recipe that’s been cherished and tweaked to perfection over time.”

You can find the recipe here for “Best Ever Sugar Cookie Recipe.

You’ll see in the thread I then halved the recipe. And I also, mostly for fun, asked what happens if I don’t chill the dough (cat birthday parties are a lot of work, and it’s always best to avoid testing the patience of fourth-grade girls).

We baked the cookies. We ate the cookies. And every single minor and adult who tried them thought they were perfect.

Still, I felt guilty after. And not the usual guilt I have from eating too many of my daughter’s cookies. This guilt hit different.

What I did might be perfectly legit. I’m even paying OpenAI, plus tax.

But think of all the losers.

There’s Google and its ad revenue from sponsored listings. Few will feel bad to hurt a monopoly, but still, they’re affected.

Then there are all those random cooking sites that make you scroll through 20 screens worth of gibberish just to get to the recipe; all around that gibberish are potentially dozens of ad units sold on a per-impression basis. None of those impressions were served. You could argue that most of those sites deserve a slow and painful one-way ticket to hell’s kitchen, and you could even argue that they brought this upon themselves. Still, such publishers will feel pain.

Then there are the advertisers who can’t reach me if I’m using subscription-based, ad-free apps to get information. Maybe if they’re lucky, I’ll download a custom GPT of theirs in the ChatGPT store. I suspect, for most users, the general ChatGPT will be just fine.

And there are companies like King Arthur Baking, which may be in those previous two categories. Maybe I’ve already transacted with them. King Arthur has a “Cookie Companion” cookbook. Do I need to buy this if the AI companion can give me a recipe for whatever I want? Plus, I can talk to AI to customize the recipe based on my preferences and what’s in my kitchen.

I can even get a recipe for a Croissantosaurus!

Here’s how ChatGPT said to bake one – though it stressed that getting the details so perfect is unlikely after I initially showed it the image.

This all leads me to wonder about the ethics of my action.

Was it right to do what I did?

Was there anything wrong about what I did?

Do I owe something to those I’m indirectly hurting?

My gut is that the ethics are similar to shopping at Amazon or Wal-Mart. It’s not amoral, unethical, or illegal to go the big box or quasi-monopolistic route. Most of us do so, even if we are wary of the harm done to local businesses and other smaller e-commerce companies.

One can also argue that it’s way more important to feed and take care of one’s family the best (moral/ethical/legal) way possible. If that means prioritizing convenience and cost, those are substantial considerations.

And maybe there’s even some version of how this plays out where LLMs like ChatGPT become gateway drugs to new pursuits. I might be fine with AI for a quick recipe for a kid’s playdate, but when I want to learn the skills to create a life-sized cat cake next year, I’ll need to learn from subject matter experts like King Arthur and other baker-creators.

I did ask ChatGPT about the ethical quandary. It told me:

“Using ChatGPT for recipes isn’t unethical, especially for personal use or learning. However, considering the broader impacts on creators, the importance of accurate and safe cooking instructions, and respecting cultural significance can help guide ethical use. It’s also beneficial to use a mix of sources for your culinary exploration to support creators and ensure a diverse and enriching cooking experience.”

Sound reasoning, sure. But it’s also beneficial for me to eat more kale instead of cat cookies. That doesn’t mean we tend to go by what’s beneficial – or we even think about who benefits and how.

I’m curious to hear your take. I also hope to hear from Kristina Martin and Paul Chaney who publish AI Marketing Ethics on topics like this. We need to have more of these conversations, and we will in forums like AI Insiders where Kristina and Paul recently joined as guest speakers.

Given all these qualms, will I use ChatGPT next time I need a recipe?

Did I tell you just HOW good those cat cookies were?


PS: Yes, I’ll be at SXSW next week. Let me know if you’ll be out there.

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