The previous generation of AI text output

Lately I’ve been reading articles about corporations experimenting with chatbots that use GPT-3. GPT-3 is an artificial intelligence with the ability to generate a short text article from a text prompt given to it.

Mr. Saturn and his brother and I have played around with various implementations of GPT-2, the previous iteration of the technology. We found the output gloriously absurd and inspirational. Mr. Saturn’s brother tried prompting the engine with “Mr. President, I am writing to you today to…” and we got the following output, which I will attempt to analyze:

Mr. President, I am writing to you today to request an immediate briefing regarding concerns raised by my staff regarding a forthcoming event organized by the U.S. Embassy at the Russian Consulate in Chicago.

GPT-2 assumed that the letter to the President was to a government president, not a corporate president, and it was the President of the United States of America. When I was growing up in the US, one of the school activities everyone had to do in elementary school was write a letter to the President. So there is probably a large amount of letters from people to the US President. I am not sure if this is also a common practice in other English-speaking countries which have a President as head of state.

However, the letter’s opening paragraph suggests that it was written by an adult in the political sphere, as most schoolchildren do not have their own staff. But the idea in my brain is that the President of the United States primarily receives letters from two kinds of people: schoolchildren and bureaucrats. What else do those two populations have in common, besides writing letters to high-ranking politicians? I am not a good enough comedian or philosopher to elaborate on that.

I must note that this text was generated in 2019. At that point, the President of the United States was Donald Trump. Russia had not yet invaded Ukraine. And why would anyone be worried about disrupted events in Chicago in particular? I’m not sure. When I think of disrupted events, I think of Washington DC or Los Angeles thanks to the bubble I grew up in. However, Chicago is a big city, so I’ll allow it.

I understand that the U.S. Embassy will host several prominent political figure-slaying clown bands at its upcoming June 22 event at the Embassy’s Washington Park facility. The Embassy, however, is concerned about the event going forward because of concerns raised by our employees and the local community about the possibility of political violence from the various clown bands.

The fact is that such an event is not in our best interests.

Several political figure-slaying clown bands! I am not the most well-listened person in rock music, so the only clown band that comes to mind is Insane Clown Posse. I am delighted by the idea that ICP would come to a US Embassy to represent us to another nation. Russia is apparently famous for clowns, so I suppose there’s a connection there. Also, I love the political/legalese language of this sentence. It fits the tone of the letter about diplomatic event security.

The Embassy supports the right of individuals to express themselves freely in their neighborhoods. However, given our concerns regarding such clown bands and other political performers in Chicago, the Embassy cannot stand by idly while local residents engage in dangerous acts of violence on behalf of political clowns. The Embassy’s understanding is that the upcoming visit to the U.S. by representatives of “Mr. Trump” will likely include an event scheduled with the participation of the aforementioned clowns, who represent our political leader. In the event of such an event taking place, the Embassy believes it would be helpful to learn more about these clowns and hear from one of their agents.

In 2019, “Mr. Trump” (I love the scare quotes here), was the President and would not send representatives to the United States, as most of his representatives already lived here. However, GPT-2 didn’t know who the President of the United States was, or even what the job of US President was. It only knew what words tended to follow each other in political correspondence at.

However, the phrase “the aforementioned clowns, who represent our political leader” mimics a lot of dialogue by Americans who feel that way about people who vote differently from them. This was especially true of people who disliked the cronies of Mr. Trump.

Sincerely yours,

John Podesta.

What a wonderful punchline. For those who are unfamiliar with him, John Podesta is an American political consultant from Chicago. If I were looking for the name of a person who might write a political letter to the President, John Podesta seems plausible enough. The irony here is that Podesta was affiliated with Clinton, Trump’s opponent, during her presidential run in 2016. The text was generated in 2019, and my friends and I had a good laugh at the time at trying to imagine these concerns leading to this letter being written1.

In any case, this letter, the fruit of machine learning, gave me such joy because the form of the writing was close to what I anticipated a letter to the President from a political operative to look like, but the contents sound outlandish. The beauty of GPT-2 is that it forces us humans to acknowledge and define why its assertions are so funny or disturbing. In that, we can learn a lot of lessons, such as “many humans are afraid of clowns” and “most people think politicians, especially ones mentioned in the same conversation as the word Trump, are not serious and perhaps even clowns.”

Unfortunately, our experiments with GPT-3, GPT-2’s successor, are so far nowhere near as hilarious or enlightening. I’ve found the output boring and derivative.

1. Today, Podesta serves as an advisor to President Biden of the United States. Given the events of 6 January 2020 at the Capitol, the letter would make more sense if it were to be written more recently. And now an image of Juggalos defacing a bust of Zachary Taylor lives forever in my mind.

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