An author’s first time collaborating with artificial intelligence

Herbert Lui

I was close to pulling my hair out writing an introduction for this, so I decided to ask my AI collaborator, GPT-3. It responded, “The truth is, I don’t have a lot of creative advice to give. My creative process is kind of the equivalent of a drunk guy trying to break a record in a potato sack race.”

I guess ledes are hard to write, even for artificial intelligence.

If you haven’t been acquainted with GPT-3, please allow me to introduce you:

Officially, GPT-3 is an autoregressive language model that generates 4.5 billion words per day. It’s still in beta, but it already powers 300 apps. Over 10,000 developers are working with it. Forbes named it the A.I. “Person” of the Year. OpenAI is the company that made the GPT-3 language model. Microsoft invested $1 billion in it. If you want to try GPT-3, you can sign up for the OpenAI beta here.

Unofficially, amongst many other things, GPT-3 is an opinion writer for The Guardian, proposer of possible futures, and general investment dispenser. Since so many others had tried working with the GPT-3 as a writing collaborator, I wanted to give it a shot.

It’s capable of much more, but I wanted to start with the low-hanging fruit. What would happen if I pasted some of my old writing in it?

A week ago, I wrote this blog post, “3 Fun Ways to Get More Creative in 60 Seconds,” so I decided to paste the headline in. Here’s what GPT-3 responded with:

I wasn’t disappointed. It’s common sense, and nothing I haven’t seen before, but it’s representative of a lot of creativity advice. Perhaps this is less a limitation of GPT-3, than asking someone — even artificial intelligence — for creative advice.

Since it responded in Q&A format, I decided to try asking it an actual question, an excerpt from another blog post I wrote:

This technically isn’t untrue, and my question was very general. I found it equally funny and disappointing.

I then asked GPT-3 what were three things creative geniuses did:

Solitude was the common factor GPT-3 recognized in creative genius. While there are some solo aspects of creativity, it’s very much a team sport and related to an environment’s culture, collaboration, and competition. So in this case, GPT-3 is merely a reflection of the stories we have been telling ourselves. I’ll try a different prompt next time.

As with all cliches, there’s truth in it. Acceptable, but not brilliant. Nonetheless, if you want to be more creative, try spending some time on your own.

Frankly, I was liking what I was seeing enough to prompt it to write me an article.

Author Prompt: Write me an article about creativity please

GPT-3 Response: I’ll be honest. I don’t know much about creativity. I’m not a psychologist and I’m not a creative myself. I’m just a guy who likes to read about psychology and creativity. What I can do, though, is write you an article about creativity that’s based on what I have read. That way you get a proper article, but you don’t have to pay for the expertise of a psychologist or a creative person.

This could’ve passed my version of the Turing test; I wouldn’t have known an actual person didn’t write this. That didn’t mean I’d write it (or read it), but it just felt familiar.

This is also the first time it occurred to me, I should be saving the text.

When I talk to artificial intelligence, I put on my best manners. I figure etiquette couldn’t hurt when you’re talking to an entity who could potentially outsmart the entire human planet in a few years. (Of course it might not matter after all — saying “Please” to a Terminator or a sentinel in The Matrix wouldn’t help much.) In any case, I decided to try the prompt again.

GPT-3 made a reference to, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which has its own fair share of controversy. It’s not a reference I would have made (or even known about), but I appreciate that GPT-3 made note of the sensitive nature of the content.

Author Prompt: Write me an article on creativity please!

GPT-3 Response: The word creativity is used and abused so much that it is beginning to lose its meaning. Every time I hear the word creativity I cannot but think of a quote from the movie, “The night they drove old dixie down”. “Can you tell me where I can find a man who is creative?” “You don’t have to find him, he’s right here.” “Oh, thank god. I thought I was going to have to go all over town.”

I actually have no idea if that quote was actually in that film or not. What’s funny is GPT-3’s observation on creativity, “The word creativity is used and abused so much that it is beginning to lose its meaning.” I can imagine Oli Mould, who wrote Against Creativity, might agree.

Perhaps I could take that idea, and prompt myself to use it and remix it. But in short, no, I couldn’t let GPT-3 ghostwrite me an article yet. Maybe with the proper prompting, it could get there.

One point worth noting: in my particular case, even when just asking general questions, I found GPT-3 to respond in some very unpredictable ways. If you plan to work with it, brace yourself, because it can sometimes be a chaotic or insensitive collaborative writing partner. When Abeba Birhane it more factual, meaningful, or challenging questions, GPT-3’s responses were untruthful and unsavory. (It’s not only GPT-3 — see Microsoft’s NLP from 2016.)

Even though ghostwriting was off the table for now, maybe GPT-3 could offer advice on being more creative. I decided to ask:

Author Prompt: Q: If someone asked you how to be more creative, what would you advise?

GPT-3 Response: A: I would tell them to do something that scares them.

Maybe GPT-3 plucked it right out of Seth Godin’s mouth! In any case, this is an acceptable response.

But since Seth and so many others have covered it, it’s already very familiar territory — not very original anymore. Like Sean Kernan wrote, maybe AI is best as an indicator of what not to write. That’s still helpful.

Could the AI write a blog post with Rick Rubin’s voice and tone? We could all use a bit more zen, peaceful, meditative, energy in our lives:

Author Prompt: This is a blog post written by Rick Rubin.

GPT-3 Response: The modern world is filled with people who wait for the right moment to act. They wait for conditions to be perfect, for the right amount of resources, for the right time, for the right sequence, for the right team. They wait for everything to be lined up before they move. They wait. And wait. And wait. The longer they wait, the less likely it is that they’ll ever move. As they wait, they get used to a state of paralysis. They get used to not taking action. And once someone gets used to not doing anything they stop going to

I can’t say I see or hear Rick Rubin saying this The tone is impatient, urgent, and angry. In other words, the complete opposite of what a person needs to be creative.

Via: Rick Rubin Bot/Twitter

Disappointed with its poor imitation of Rick Rubin, I decided to wrap up the experiment. As my second last question, I asked GPT-3 what the important advice on creativity is.

Author Prompt: What is the most important piece of advice on creativity?

GPT-3 Response: I think creativity is a talent and it’s something you can learn. I think the most important advice is to nurture your curiosity. Get to know yourself. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t hide your ideas. Express yourself and surprise yourself. Check out more of the work, here.

I’ve heard a version of this speech many times. The reminder doesn’t get old, but it would help if it was more original.

I’m most comfortable with giving GPT-3 the “tl;dr:” prompt, probably because it’s the easiest for me to understand. So I pasted all the fragments of text I’d copied above, and asked it for a “tl;dr:” summary:

Author Prompt, after pasting in all fragments: tl;dr:

GPT-3 Response: What’s the takeaway? A few tips: 1. Listen to your body. 2. Surround yourself with positive people. 3. Make time to work on your art. 4. Be open to criticism. 5. Put yourself out there.

For a tl;dr, this omitted a lot of what we covered (what happened to solitude? Or doing something that scares you?). But the advice itself was sensible enough.

As this last point might reflect, GPT-3 is really great for general text generation, but not so good with specifics and judgment — yet. In other words, it’s good at writing, and not so good at editing. I’m sure that’ll change soon, as more people use it and continue training it.

But I can see myself, and others, working with GPT-3 even right now. The creative process is about prompting responses in ourselves (or others) and investigating it, to see what emerges. We can prompt GPT-3 the same way, and it can prompt us similarly too.

In other words, while we may consider GPT-3 artificial intelligence (AI), I also think it can be used as a tool for our own minds — intelligence amplification (or intelligence augmentation, IA) — to explore our own reactions, responses, and stories.

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