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/for those not interested in new technology, the influence of that technology on writing, or our future overlords’ feelings about cat names and other topics, avert your eyes!

You may have seen recent discussions on ChatGPT, the new AI chat bot blazing its way across the internet.

We gave ChatGPT a college-level microbiology quiz. It aced it. – Big Think

I resisted for a few days and then gave in. Is it as good as they say? In my (admittedly limited experience), yes and no. Here are a few examples.

* * *

I’ve written about AI-assisted writing before, but the models are getting markedly better. There are still hiccups like getting stuck mid-list due to an odd love for the word “Catrick” (on the way to “List the top one hundred humorous names for a cat” which, let’s face it, should be AI 101). “Catrick Stewart” yes, “Catrick Eddie Vedder” maybe not so much.

Other jobs it did quite well.

Need a “six-paragraph blog post explaining space elevators”? ChatGPT has you covered:

A space elevator is a hypothetical structure that would allow vehicles to travel from the surface of the Earth to outer space. The concept of a space elevator was first proposed by the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895, and has been explored in various forms by scientists and engineers over the years.

The basic idea behind a space elevator is to have a cable or tether anchored to the surface of the Earth and extending into space. This tether would be attached to a stationary platform, known as a counterweight, at the outer end. Vehicles, such as spacecraft, would then be able to travel up and down the tether, using electric motors to climb or descend as needed.

The main advantage of a space elevator over traditional rocket-based launch systems is that it would allow for much cheaper and more efficient access to space. Rockets require a large amount of fuel to lift off from the Earth’s surface and overcome the planet’s gravitational pull. A space elevator, on the other hand, would essentially be “riding” the Earth’s rotation to reach space, using a fraction of the energy required by a rocket.

However, there are several challenges to building a space elevator. One major challenge is the material that would be used for the tether. The tether would need to be incredibly strong and lightweight, as it would need to be able to withstand the enormous forces exerted on it by the Earth’s rotation and the weight of vehicles traveling along it. Additionally, the tether would need to be able to withstand the extreme temperatures and radiation found in space.

Another challenge is the cost and feasibility of constructing such a massive structure. The tether would need to extend all the way into space, potentially reaching an altitude of more than 20,000 miles. Building and maintaining such a structure would be a massive undertaking, requiring significant financial and technological resources.

Despite these challenges, the concept of a space elevator continues to be explored and studied by scientists and engineers. Some believe that the development of new materials, such as carbon nanotubes, could make the construction of a space elevator possible in the future. Until then, however, the dream of a space elevator remains just that – a dream.

― ChatGPT

Or perhaps you need “a blog post about interesting events in today’s history with a little humor”?

Today in history, we commemorate some truly fascinating events! For example, did you know that on this day in 1872, the world’s first international football match was played between Scotland and England? It ended in a 0-0 tie, but it was a historic moment for the sport and for Anglo-Scottish relations.

But that’s not all! On this day in 1859, the first professional football game was played in the United States. And in 1922, the tomb of King Tutankhamun was discovered, sparking a renewed interest in ancient Egyptian history and culture.

But it’s not all serious business today. On this day in 1823, the first ever Christmas Eve office party was held in New York City. And in 1965, the first ever Yule Log was broadcast on television, providing a cozy and festive atmosphere for viewers at home.

So as you can see, there’s a lot to celebrate today! Whether you’re a sports fan, a history buff, or just looking to party, there’s something for everyone in today’s historical events. So let’s raise a glass and toast to another year of interesting and memorable moments in history!”?

― ChatGPT

But if you want “a hundred word story about a talking cat”? The results were perhaps less useful:

The talking cat was a curious creature. She would sit by the window for hours, watching the world go by and musing about the strange habits of humans. She had many questions, but no one to answer them. That is, until she met the little girl who lived next door. The girl was just as curious as the cat, and the two of them quickly became fast friends. They would spend their days together, the cat sharing her wisdom and the girl listening with rapt attention. And as the girl grew older, the cat was always there to offer guidance and support. They were an unlikely pair, but they were the best of friends.

― ChatGPT

And it completely choked on a few requests, like “write a poem where the last word in every line is a palindrome” (it ignored the palindrome request and just wrote a poem, same when anagrams were tested) and “What did Robert Heinlein say about signs of social change?”

I’m sorry, I am not able to browse the internet, so I cannot provide information on what Robert Heinlein may have said about signs of social change. As a large language model trained by OpenAI, my knowledge is based on the text that has been input into my training data, which has a cutoff date of 2021. I do not have the ability to browse the internet or access new information.

― ChatGPT

* * *

As you can see, it also makes the production of a lot of text possible in a very short period of time. I have some ideas but finding ways to make it useful for fiction is still a work in progress, I think.

Although it did help me with ideas for dinner.

Mars Dinner Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dehydrated mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup dehydrated mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, corn)
  • 1 cup dehydrated beef or chicken
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

• In a small pot, combine the mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, beef or chicken, onion, and garlic. Add enough water to cover the ingredients, and stir to combine.

• Place the pot over a portable stove or heat source, and bring the mixture to a boil.

• Reduce the heat to low, and let the mixture simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the meat and vegetables are fully rehydrated and the potatoes are soft.

• Stir in the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

• Serve hot and enjoy your dinner on Mars!

* * *

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

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Some of my time today was taken up by story edits, so I thought I could use a bit of help on the blog post today.

You may have heard the fuss around OpenAI’s GPT-3, a new AI that can generate impressive results with text and code. (Here’s an explainer, or you can think of it as the world’s most sophisticated auto-complete.) I decided to test out an open-source version called GPT-J by asking it to create a list of ten speculative fiction books.

* Disclaimer: I am an untrained hack playing with a system that (in some hands, at least) is giving the Turing Test a run for its money. Cue hilarity.

My new assistant was happy to help, if sometimes a bit, um, off base. After tweaking the prompt, settings, and iterating several many times to get around the length limitations, here is the result:

Original Prompt (My comments in brackets and bold, all else from GPT-J):

List 10 speculative fiction books:

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Result:

List 10 speculative fiction books:

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. 1984 by George Orwell

3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

4. The Shining by Stephen King

5. The Stand by Stephen King

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

7. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

8. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I’ve been reading a lot of speculative fiction lately, mostly dystopian and post-apocalyptic, so I decided to put together a list of ten of my favorites. It’s probably a bit more of a guilty pleasure than an accurate reflection of my reading habits, but these are all books that I’ve really enjoyed and can’t wait to reread. I’ll probably be back to add some more to the list.

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The first fantasy book I ever read and it’s still one of my favorites. I picked it up when I was 14 or 15, and I’ve read it a few times since. It’s a story of good versus evil, with good triumphing over evil. [geesh, spoiler alert] I read the trilogy in order, though I’d recommend reading the prequel, The Hobbit, first if you haven’t already.

2. 1984 by George Orwell

Orwell’s dystopian novel about a future where the government has full control over the citizens. It’s written in the form of a diary entry by an unnamed character, so you don’t really know who it’s talking about. It’s probably my favorite dystopian novel and the one I’ve read most often. I’ve been meaning to reread it for a while, but I haven’t found the time yet.

3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

This book is about a teenage boy named Alex who is doped up on hallucinogenic drugs. He gets in trouble with the police, and when the drugs wear off he goes berserk and starts brutally attacking people. He’s a classic anti-hero. [I saw the movie. don’t want to see/read it again]

4. The Shining by Stephen King

I haven’t read this one in a while, but I remember enjoying it. It’s about a writer who gets trapped in a hotel during a blizzard, with an evil presence in the hotel. It’s got a great story and a lot of twists and turns, but it’s also very scary.

5. The Stand by Stephen King

Another Stephen King book I haven’t read in a while, but I remember enjoying it. It’s about a virus that’s being spread by a zombie-like virus, and the only way to stop it is to kill every single person. [admission: haven’t read it, but even I know this isn’t quite on the money]

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This is a dystopian novel about a future where women are subjugated to the men. The story revolves around a woman named June, who becomes pregnant and has to go through an arranged marriage with a man named Nick. [I mean, sort of? on the money about “the men” though]

7. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

This is one of my favorite science fiction novels. [I can tell, see below] It’s about a time traveler from the future who is stuck in the past, and the only way he can get back to the future is to find the way to his home world. [eehhhh, close enough]

8. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’ve read this one before, and I loved it. It’s about a group of hobbits and elves [um, kind of?] who go on a quest to destroy an evil ring. It’s not just a simple story about good and evil, but a story about friendship and loyalty. It’s a great fantasy novel. [truth]

9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

[not speculative, but at this point we’re just going with it]

This is a bestseller in Sweden [and everywhere else], and it’s the first in a trilogy. It’s about a journalist who is hired to investigate a crime in Sweden, and the story is told from the perspective of the journalist, Mikael Blomkvist.

10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This is the second in a trilogy, and it’s about a girl named Katniss Everdeen who gets sent to the Hunger Games to be a tribute, where she has to fight and kill other contestants in a fight to the death.

I’m a big fan of both dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, so I was excited when I found this book at a used book store. I’d been wanting to read it for a while, and I was happy to find it for a reasonable price. 

[So, errors but it’s really not terrible so far, although it’s often almost right enough to be problematic if you’re not careful; now here’s where it goes off the rails]

The story is told from the perspective of a 14 year old girl named Charlie who has to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

I’m not a big fan of the Hunger Games series, but I did enjoy this book. It’s a story about the dangers of technology, and it’s one of the few dystopian novels I’ve read that I actually enjoyed. It’s about a man named Anthony, who has a terminal illness and is given the chance to be frozen in a cryogenic chamber and wake up later.

The story is told in the form of a journal entry by the protagonist, Richard. He has a wife and son, and he’s trying to cope with his son’s death, as well as his own imminent death. The story revolves around Richard trying to make sense of what has happened, and trying to cope with the loss of his son.

I read this book in one sitting, and I’m still thinking about it. [me too, GPT-J, me too]

I’m sure there’s a tech explanation for what happened there, but for now I’ll just be amused. 

* * *

In earlier tests, GPT-J did a pretty good job of identifying both science fiction and more generally speculative fiction, but did get a few things wrong.

Examples:

9. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

This is a novel set in a virtual reality world called the Matrix. It’s a world in which you can literally “hack” reality.

It’s a brilliant book. It’s set in a future where virtual reality is the new reality. But it’s a bit like the movie Snowpiercer. Snow Crash is a bit like a cross between Snowpiercer and Snow Crash.

It’s really, really, really good. I can’t recommend it enough.

[just, yeah]

7. The Stainless Steel Rat by John Creasey [nope, that was Harry Harrison; it didn’t know that Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War either]

Also, from some of the earlier versions of this experiment GPT-J seems to have a serious thing for H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Here’s an example:

Prompt:

Complete this list of 10 speculative fiction books:

1. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Result:

2. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

3. The City and the City by China Miéville

4. The Iron Heel by Jack London

5. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

6. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

7. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

8. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

9. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

10. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Ok, then!

* * *

I will say that all of this took a great deal more time than actually, I don’t know, writing the list myself. That said, even this tiny glimpse shows off the system’s enormous potential. 

So (aside from “Generative Pretrained Transformer”) what does GPT stand for? 

GPT-J has thoughts:

A: GPT stands for Genuine Personal Testimony.
A: GPT stands for GNU Parted Table. It’s the name of the backend to which I’m referring to when I say that I’m talking about the “system” and not the “table.”
A: GPT stands for “grandparents’ primary teacher”. I created the term to describe those teachers who start a conversation with students and parents as if they are a student’s grandparent. It’s a term I use to describe teachers who have the experience of a parent.

Me, I say it stands for generate, proof, and for the love of The Time Machine, please think.

* * *

Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash

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