Please Do Not Disrespect The Dictator


I wasn’t planning to experiment with Chat GPT: the tone of the coverage, generally either hyper apocalyptic or breathlessly techno-utopian, bored me. Using an AI to write formulaic prose was nothing new; Bloomberg was already generating one third of its articles by this method in 2019. Meanwhile there were many things ChatGPT could not do, such as distinguish between facts and its own hallucinations. It was an advance, but hardly the transformation of the word/world.

Yet as the excitement persisted, lasting not weeks but months, and I saw more examples of the AI’s output, I started to think that perhaps I should take a look after all. This was clearly an opportunity for a story with which I could bore my grandchildren a few decades from now, as I, a bearded Methuselah, bounced them on my knee and explained how I had interacted with the first popular large language model before AI became so thoroughly embedded into our lives that you never thought about it.

And so I created an OpenAI account. But what to ask? I didn’t want to make it too easy, so I started with this:

Why did Baron Karza feed all of Homeworld’s population into the body banks?

This question refers to a rather horrific plotline in The Micronauts, a toy tie-in that was published by Marvel Comics in two volumes between 1979 and 1986. Towards the end of the first series, the heroes return to their home planet (“Homeworld”) and discover that their arch-nemesis, the diabolical Baron Karza, has used the entire population as fodder in his giant genetic engineering laboratory (“the body banks”). It is a horror that cannot be undone, and by the time the series’ heroes execute Baron Karza for his crimes, their planet is a dead molecule chain, floating in subatomic Inner Space.

It turned out that while ChatGPT may have been trained on 300 billion words, none of them were in The Micronauts:

I’m sorry, but I am not aware of a character or event named “Baron Karza” or “Homeworld” in any historical or fictional context that would lead to feeding all of Homeworld’s population into body banks. “Baron Karza” and “Homeworld” do not exist in any known historical context, and it is possible that they are specific to a particular fictional universe or work of fiction, which I am not familiar with, without more information it is difficult for me to understand the context of this question and provide an accurate answer.

Surprised by my easy victory (a search for “Baron Karza” returns over 80,000 results on Google) I decided to make my next prompt still more challenging. The person I know with the deepest understanding of AI is my friend Daniel, who also holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Chicago. He is especially fascinated by the life and career of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, an obscure 19th century doctor-poet who, after some fleeting early success, spent decades toiling over a dense, bizarre verse drama called Death’s Jest Book before drinking poison at the age of 45. Shortly before Beddoes committed suicide his leg was amputated below the knee, and I remembered Daniel quoting the note that was found with his corpse: “Life was too great a bore on one peg & that a bad one.”  Through this chain of associations I came to my next prompt for the AI:

Write a sonnet in the style of Thomas Beddoes about his amputated leg’s voyage through hell

There was a brief pause, and then the words started appearing rapidly on the screen…

Read the rest at Thus Spake Daniel Kalder

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