Ken Burns on ChatGPT: 'It's Artificial. I Can Inflate a Doll For You If You Need That Too.' We spoke with the filmmaker and historian at American Prairie's 2023 Ken Burns American Heritage Prize ceremony about the past and future of big ideas.

By Dan Bova

Light of Blue Photography

Since 2017, the American Prairie has hosted the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize ceremony, honoring people whose life and work have "advanced our collective understanding of America's heritage and the indomitable American spirit."

Following the presentation of the 2023 award, which was given to Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. and current president and co-founder of Tompkins Conservation, Burns spoke with Entrepreneur about powerful ideas, the need for conservation, and his thoughts on the new wave of AI-generated content.

Related: Former CEO of Patagonia Dishes Out Blunt Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs: 'Just Freaking Decide to Do Something'

On the power of ideas

"In government and society, there are good ideas and bad ideas. It is incumbent upon us, in the face of despair and grief, to continually put the better ideas out there because the bad ideas travel very, very quickly and people can be very susceptible to accepting them as truth."

Related: Ken Burns on the Process That Geniuses Like Steve Jobs Use to Achieve Success

On preserving America's landscape

"Acquisitive people look at a river and think, 'dam.' They look at a beautiful stand of trees and think 'board feet.' Or they look at a canyon and wonder what minerals can be extracted from it. And then there are other people who sort of are a bulwark against that, that sort of puts something up that says no. We can set aside a little bit — and it is not losing, it's actually winning. Wallace Stegner called the National Parks America's best idea, right? And if you think the best idea is in the Declaration of Independence, however fraught that was, it's applying the Declaration of Independence to the landscape for the first time in human history. Land is set aside for everybody, for all time. All of us here are the owners of some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. And that's a good thing."

On if he has been tempted to type "make a 12-hour-long documentary" into ChatGPT

"No. No, no, no, no. It's artificial, remember? It's not good for you. It's not real. You know, I can inflate a doll for you if you need that, too."

Related: Ken Burns Talks About Leadership, Productivity and Achieving Immortality Through Storytelling

Wavy Line
Dan Bova

Entrepreneur Staff

VP of Special Projects

Dan Bova is the VP of Special Projects at He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim and Spy magazine. Check out his latest humor books for kids, including Wendell the Werewolf, Road & Track Crew's Big & Fast Cars, and The Big Little Book of Awesome Stuff.

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