Lowell History by Artificial Intelligence

History has always been my favorite subject and, since I’ve lived in Lowell most of my life, I’m especially interested in the history of the city. But the history of technology also fascinates me, particularly how it changes the way people live. Because of that, I’ve closely followed recent developments in the field of artificial intelligence. A new application, ChatGPT, burst on the scene last November and has rattled the world of those who pay attention to such things. (ChatGPT was created and is operated by OpenAI, a San Francisco-based artificial intelligence research company that has a relationship with Microsoft).

For now, the basic model of ChatGPT is free, so I’ve been using it consistently to get a feel for how it works. Just last week, Google launched Bard which is a comparable application. There’s a waiting list for access to Bard. I was just given access yesterday.

Some have predicted that these AI applications will be the biggest change to how people work since the introduction of steam power in the early 1800s. I’m not ready to go quite so far but I’ve been endlessly impressed by my interaction with these applications.

To illustrate how they work, I asked both ChatGPT and Google Bard to write an essay on the history of Lowell. Here’s the prompt I entered:

Write a 400-word essay in the style of a college history major on the history of Lowell, Massachusetts, covering the city’s founding, its geography, its importance to the Industrial Revolution in America, its decline, and its revival in the late 20th century; also identify important people who came from Lowell including Benjamin Butler, Jack Kerouac, Paul Tsongas, Edith Nourse Rogers, and Elinor Lipman.

Here is the response from ChatGPT, with no editing or supplementation by me. The application took about 5 seconds to generate this response:

ChatGPT’s Essay

Lowell, Massachusetts, is a city steeped in history. Founded in the early 19th century, the city played a crucial role in the Industrial Revolution in America. Despite experiencing a decline in the mid-20th century, Lowell has experienced a revival in recent decades. In this essay, I will explore the history of Lowell, including its founding, geography, importance to the Industrial Revolution, decline, and revival.

Lowell was founded in 1826 by a group of Boston businessmen who were inspired by the success of the textile mills in England. They saw an opportunity to establish a textile industry in America, and they chose the Merrimack River Valley in Massachusetts as the ideal location for their new venture. The city was named after Francis Cabot Lowell, one of the leading figures in the American textile industry.

Lowell’s geography was key to its success. The city is located at the confluence of the Merrimack and Concord Rivers, which provided water power for the mills. Additionally, the city’s proximity to Boston and other major ports made it easy to transport goods to market.

During the mid-19th century, Lowell was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in America. The city’s textile mills were among the most advanced in the world, and they employed thousands of workers, many of whom were women and children. These workers lived in company-owned boardinghouses and were subject to strict rules and regulations. Despite the harsh working conditions, Lowell was seen as a model city for industrialization, and it attracted visitors from around the world.

However, the decline of the textile industry in America led to the decline of Lowell in the mid-20th century. Many of the mills were forced to close, and the city’s population declined. In the 1970s, Lowell was designated a “distressed city” by the federal government.

Despite these challenges, Lowell has experienced a revival in recent decades. The city has reinvented itself as a center for education, culture, and tourism. The Lowell National Historical Park, established in 1978, tells the story of the city’s industrial past and attracts visitors from around the world. Additionally, the city has become a hub for higher education, with several colleges and universities located in Lowell.

Lowell has also produced several important figures throughout its history. Benjamin Butler, a Civil War general and politician, was born in Lowell. Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation writer, spent much of his youth in Lowell and wrote several novels set in the city. Paul Tsongas, a former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, represented Lowell in Congress. Edith Nourse Rogers, the first woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, was also from Lowell. Elinor Lipman, a best-selling author, was born and raised in Lowell.

In conclusion, Lowell, Massachusetts, is a city with a rich history. From its founding as a center for the textile industry to its decline and subsequent revival, Lowell has experienced many changes over the years. Despite its challenges, Lowell has remained a vibrant city, and it continues to play an important role in the cultural and economic life of Massachusetts and the United States as a whole.


I then asked Google Bard to do the same thing. It took even less time.

Google Bard’s Essay

Lowell, Massachusetts, is a city with a rich history. It was founded in the early 19th century as a planned industrial town, and quickly became one of the most important textile centers in the United States. Lowell’s success was due in part to its location along the Merrimack River, which provided abundant water power for the mills. The city also benefited from its proximity to Boston, which allowed it to easily import raw materials and export finished goods.

Lowell’s importance to the Industrial Revolution in America cannot be overstated. The city’s mills were some of the most advanced in the world, and they helped to revolutionize the way that textiles were produced. Lowell’s success also inspired other cities to develop their own industrial economies.

However, Lowell’s fortunes began to decline in the late 19th century. The city’s mills were no longer as competitive as those in other parts of the world, and many of them were forced to close. Lowell’s population also began to decline, as people moved to other cities in search of work.

In the late 20th century, Lowell began to experience a revival. The city’s mills were converted into museums and other cultural attractions, and its downtown area was revitalized. Lowell also became a center for higher education, with the establishment of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Today, Lowell is a thriving city with a diverse economy. It is home to a number of businesses, including technology companies, hospitals, and universities. Lowell is also a popular tourist destination, with its many historical sites and cultural attractions.

Some of the important people who came from Lowell include:

  • Benjamin Butler (1818-1893): A lawyer and politician, Butler served as a Union general during the Civil War and as a U.S. Representative and Senator from Massachusetts.
  • Jack Kerouac (1922-1969): A writer, Kerouac is best known for his novel On the Road, which is considered a classic of American literature.
  • Paul Tsongas (1941-1997): A politician, Tsongas served as a U.S. Representative and Senator from Massachusetts. He was also the Democratic nominee for President in 1992.
  • Edith Nourse Rogers (1881-1960): A politician, Rogers served as a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts for 35 years. She was the first woman to chair the House Armed Services Committee.
  • Elinor Lipman (born 1943): A writer, Lipman is best known for her novels, which often deal with the lives of ordinary people in small-town America.


For those wondering what these things are and how they work, I was going to write an explanation myself but then I decided to ask ChatGPT to explain itself.

Here is my prompt:

Briefly explain for a general audience what ChatGPT is, the basics of how it works, and define the terms artificial intelligence, generative AI, and large language models.

Here is the response:

Hi there! I’m ChatGPT, a type of artificial intelligence called a large language model. Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence, such as understanding natural language, recognizing images, and making decisions.

Generative AI is a type of AI that can create new and original content based on a given input or context. This can include things like generating images, videos, music, and, in my case, text.

As a large language model, my main task is to generate human-like text in response to input from users. I was trained using a technique called deep learning on a vast amount of text from the internet. This training process enables me to understand language patterns and generate text that is grammatically correct and contextually relevant.

In other words, when someone asks me a question or gives me a prompt, I use my training data and language understanding to generate a response that is as natural and human-like as possible.