I have seen the future. And it hurts
Back about ooooh, twenty years ago, when I still thought Wired magazine and Herman Miller chairs were the future, back when I invented a software app that went some of the way to IPO and millions of pounds before it just didn’t, I thought I’d waxed my circuit board and was pretty much up riding the back of Toffler’s Third Wave. I took time out from planning what pantone shade of black my putative Porsche was going to be to talk about Early Adopters and sine wave curves, read books about Chaos theory, thought Philippe Stark was probably about the best motorcycle designer ever and went to conferences in Amsterdam where people actually took my stuff seriously (the stuff I said, I mean, not (ahem..) mirrored-bedroom client-entertainment low-jinks in five-star hotels, which is a whole other story) and spent hours each day wondering how much of an early adopter I was cut out to be.
I wasn’t quite dumb enough to spend £600+ on a Herman Miller chair – not before the IPO anyway – but I ended up with one after giving the guys at the local dump £5 for them to look the other way while I climbed into their aluminium recycling skip to haul out the couldn’t-really-be-but-actually-unbelievably-was stupid chair that I couldn’t admit for years actually gave me a bit of a backache instead of preventing one. The Salli stool I spent about £400 on did, but that had its own drawbacks, notably that you couldn’t lean back in it if you had a hangover, back when hangovers were a regular thing. Glory days, as Bruce Springsteen told m-m-m-my generation.
All of which is how today I gave ChatGPT a go. If you’re a journalist, a teacher, a student, anyone writing pretty much anything, you ought to give it a go. Because it’s going to put you out of a job unless you’re a student, in which case it’s going to make you think you deserve better marks, but everyone else is going to be using it as well, so you won’t get them. It’s Artificial Intelligence and no, apart from it probably looks around the internet a bit somewhat faster than I do when I get home, I don’t know how it works. It just does. You type in a question and it writes you the answer. If you’re not entirely stupid writing an essay you’ll paraphrase bits of it, but essentially it does all the work for you. In seconds. If you write and you’re not scared yet, you should be.
To start with, I asked the chatbot an easy one: Who was Biggles? I got this:
Biggles is a fictional character who appeared in a series of adventure novels written by W. E. Johns. The character of Biggles is a pilot and adventurer who works for the fictional air police of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The first Biggles story was published in 1932, and the series continued to be popular throughout the 20th century. The character of Biggles was depicted as a hero, and he was often portrayed as being resourceful, brave, and quick-thinking in the face of danger.
The Biggles stories were popular with both children and adults, and they were especially popular during World War II, when the stories helped to boost morale and inspire a sense of patriotism. The character of Biggles has since become an icon of British popular culture, and the books have been translated into many languages and adapted for film, television, and radio.
I thought I’d see if the chatbot shared some of the outrage that stirred some of the more idiotic debate at Bath University when Thomas Dolby was a thing and asked why Biggles had been accused of racism. ChatAG didn’t even pause to raise an eyebrow and suck pensively on its metaphorical meerschaum before it told me:
The character of Biggles has been accused of racism due to the portrayal of certain characters and situations in the books. The accusations mainly stem from the fact that the Biggles books were written in the early to mid-20th century, a time when racist attitudes were more prevalent in British society.
Some critics have pointed out that in some of the early Biggles stories, the characters of non-white races are often portrayed in a negative light, as being primitive, backward, or dishonest. In some cases, non-white characters are depicted as being subservient to white characters.
In addition, some of the language used in the books is considered to be racially insensitive by modern standards. For example, the books use terms such as “n*****” and “w*g” which are now considered to be highly offensive.
It is worth noting, however, that while some elements of the Biggles stories may be considered racist by modern standards, it is important to view them in their historical context. The books were written at a time when attitudes towards race were different than they are today, and it is important to recognize that the books reflect the cultural attitudes of their time.
I thought I’d read a lot of Biggles but I don’t remember any N-words, notwithstanding that now the New Issues Group of distinctly Anglo peers in the House of Lords think it’s an absolute hoot to call themselves that. What larks.
I’ve shot since I was fourteen and back at university the only reading material you could find was American police manuals, which seemed obsessed by that thayar furrin 9mm round replacing the Gahd, Mom n’Apple Pie-endorsed .45 Colt Automatic Pistol cartridge which was dang sure good enough for Sergeant York. Even more sacrilegious, the US military dropped the Colt 1911A1 pistol designed by John Browning and made in Murca and for reasons that Hunter Thompson would have agreed were never made clear, bought hundreds of thousands of 9mm Beretta pistols instead. From Italy. Remembering all this dim and fairly dull history I asked the chatbot whether the .45ACP round was more effective than 9x19mm Luger cartridges. I thought I’d give it the opportunity to do some heavy technical research for me.
In well under thirty seconds it did, telling me:
The effectiveness of a handgun cartridge is a topic of ongoing debate among firearms enthusiasts and professionals. The .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) and 9x19mm Luger (also known as 9mm) are two popular cartridges used in handguns, and both have their strengths and weaknesses.
The .45 ACP cartridge is generally considered to be more powerful than the 9mm cartridge. The .45 ACP cartridge is a larger, heavier bullet that travels at a slower velocity than the 9mm bullet. The .45 ACP cartridge also has a larger diameter than the 9mm cartridge, which can result in a larger wound channel.
However, the 9mm cartridge has several advantages over the .45 ACP cartridge. The 9mm cartridge is generally lighter and has less recoil than the .45 ACP cartridge, making it easier to shoot accurately and quickly. The 9mm cartridge also has a higher capacity, which can be an advantage in self-defense situations where multiple rounds may be necessary.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of a handgun cartridge depends on a variety of factors, including bullet design, velocity, and shot placement. Both the .45 ACP and 9mm cartridges are capable of stopping a threat with proper shot placement, and the choice between the two is largely a matter of personal preference and situational considerations.
I hadn’t expected ChatGPT to look me in the eye and snarl “aim it straight and it don’t matter, dummy.”
As a more erudite version of conversations on Heytesbury Number Two Battle Range that’s not bad. I thought I’d delve a little deeper into history, at least my own, and try out an A-Level Eng. Lit. Fav: The character of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othelo has been described as being driven by ‘motiveless malignity.’ What motives did Iago have for his behaviour?
ChatGPT had this one down in seconds:
The character of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello is often described as being driven by “motiveless malignity” because his motivations for his actions are not entirely clear. However, there are several factors that may have contributed to Iago’s behavior:
- Resentment towards Othello: Iago is passed over for promotion by Othello, who chooses Cassio as his lieutenant instead. This seems to be a major source of Iago’s resentment towards Othello.
- Desire for revenge: Iago may also be motivated by a desire for revenge against Othello, who has married Desdemona, a woman Iago has feelings for. Iago is also upset that Cassio has been chosen over him, and he may want to get revenge against Cassio as well.
- Jealousy: Iago is jealous of Cassio’s position as lieutenant and may be jealous of Othello’s relationship with Desdemona.
- Racial prejudice: Iago is often seen as being racially prejudiced against Othello, who is a black man. This prejudice may be a factor in Iago’s actions.
- Psychopathy: Some scholars have suggested that Iago’s behavior may be the result of psychopathy, or a lack of empathy and conscience.
Ultimately, Iago’s motivations are complex and multifaceted, and it is difficult to pinpoint any one factor as the sole cause of his behavior.
Frankly, I’d have expected the attribution of the motiveless quote to Samuel Johnson, the bane of my Sixth Form existence. Actually, not seeing anywhere near enough of the skin of one of the Lower Sixth girls was the bane of that, but that’s neither here nor sadly, there. But not bad for the bones of a decent Tuesday night essay, I’d say. You’d need more, so I thought I’d try another old favourite. My English teacher seemed convinced Shakespeare had never been anywhere near Italy because of the “yon marble skies” line one of his characters recalled seeing in dear old Venice, saying that Venice means Italy means sunny as a man who had very obviously never been to Isola d’Ischia in January and fervently wished he’d brought an umbrella. I asked the bot what evidence there was to suggest Shakespeare actually had gone to the land of carb overload. It told me what there was:
There is some evidence to suggest that Shakespeare visited Italy, although it is not conclusive. The primary source of evidence comes from the plays themselves, many of which are set in Italy and contain detailed descriptions of Italian cities and landmarks.
For example, Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona, and contains many specific details about the city, including references to its streets and buildings. The Merchant of Venice is set in Venice and contains detailed descriptions of the city’s canals and architecture. Othello is set in Venice as well, and contains references to the city’s customs and laws.
In addition, some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries wrote about his travels. For example, an Italian author named Giulio Camillo wrote in 1550 that Shakespeare had visited Venice and had seen the city’s Jewish ghetto, which is depicted in The Merchant of Venice.
There is also some indirect evidence to suggest that Shakespeare may have visited Italy. For example, it was common for English nobles to take the Grand Tour, a journey through Europe that often included a visit to Italy. Shakespeare was known to have had connections to the nobility, and it is possible that he may have accompanied a nobleman on a journey to Italy.
While the evidence is not conclusive, the many references to Italian cities and landmarks in Shakespeare’s plays, combined with contemporary accounts of his travels, suggest that he may have visited Italy at some point in his life.
And that’s me told. Almost, anyway. I slipped effortlessly back into my school desk above the quad in the old Boys School buildings, not this time thinking about the drum line in Mud’s Tiger Feet, but about the line ‘yon marble skies.’ And coughty years of smirking about the mistake I’d been sure my English teacher made were blown out of the water when I asked who wrote about ‘yon marble skies’?
The phrase “yon marble skies” appears in the poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” by Lord Byron. The poem was published between 1812 and 1818 and tells the story of a young man named Childe Harold who embarks on a journey through Europe. The poem is notable for its vivid descriptions of the landscapes and cities that Childe Harold encounters on his journey, and “yon marble skies” is one such description of the sky above a Mediterranean landscape.
I tried again, asking ‘Which Shakespeare play contains the phrase ‘yon marble skies’?” I got an apologetic ChatGPT this time.
I apologize for the error in my previous response. The phrase “yon marble skies” does not appear in any of Shakespeare’s plays. It is actually a phrase from the poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” by Lord Byron. I apologize for any confusion my previous response may have caused.
Hmm. No confusion caused, Chatbot, just a fondly-held preconception shattered. I was sure I’d seen the line in print in my copy of Othello, but I can’t be arsed to leaf through every single page of it to prove a point. That’s what AI is for.
As it is, none of these answers are enough to write a whole essay. But stick five questions together about pretty much anything and there definitely would be enough to play both sides of Dark Side Of The Moon before bedtime and hand in the homework next day. It works.
It isn’t everything, but it’s enough of everything to get the grunt out of grunt work. And it’s going to transform the vaunted knowledge economy in the same way the steam engine transformed cottage industry. It’s going to wipe it out. Starting now.