ChatGPT Analyzes Faust

Thought it would be interesting to compare a ChatGPT-written essay with the one I posted here a few days ago.  So I gave the system (version 4) the following request:

Please write about Goethe’s ‘Faust’, focusing particularly on the theme of Ambition as portrayed in that work, with examples.

ChatGPT’s response is here, along with my follow-up question and the system’s response.

So, the obvious question: whether or not this song is the appropriate musical accompaniment for this post?

Applying the Turing Test to ChatGPT…Using Turing’s Own Example

Alan Turing proposed a simple test for determining whether or not a computer system possesses human-level intelligence: let people communicate with it, via a terminal, and then ask them if they have been talking to a human or an automatic system.   I’ve seen several people asserting that ChatGPT and similar systems have already passed the Turing test, but haven’t encountered anyone who tried it with Turing’s own interesting and subtle example of what such a conversation might be like..  So I decided to do it myself.

Here’s Turing’s example:

Interrogator: In the first line of your sonnet which reads “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” would not “a spring day” do as well or better?

Witness: It wouldn’t scan.

Interrogator: How about “a winter’s day,” That would scan all right.

Witness: Yes, but nobody wants to be compared to a winter’s day.

Interrogator: Would you say Mr. Pickwick reminded you of Christmas?

Witness: In a way.

Interrogator: Yet Christmas is a winter’s day, and I do not think Mr. Pickwick would mind the comparison.

Witness: I don’t think you’re serious. By a winter’s day one means a typical winter’s day, rather than a special one like Christmas.

Now let’s see how ChatGPT responds to the same question:

Me:  In the first line of the sonnet which reads “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” would not “a spring day” do as well or better?

ChatGPT:  The choice of “a summer’s day” in the first line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18  is significant and deliberate, and replacing it with “a spring day” would not have the same effect.

Summer days are typically associated with warmth, beauty, and abundance, while spring days are associated with new growth and freshness. By choosing “a summer’s day,” Shakespeare is setting up a comparison to something that is at the height of its beauty and vitality. The use of “summer” also suggests a sense of fleetingness and impermanence, as summer is a season that passes quickly and is often associated with the idea of youth and the passing of time.

Furthermore, the choice of “summer” creates a contrast with the rest of the sonnet, which goes on to argue that the object of the speaker’s affection will not fade or wither like a summer’s day, but will instead be preserved forever in the lines of the poem. The contrast between the fleeting nature of summer and the eternal nature of the poem’s subject is a central theme of the sonnet.

In short, while “a spring day” could be used in a similar comparison, the use of “a summer’s day” in the opening line of Sonnet 18 is a deliberate choice that sets up important themes and contrasts that are developed throughout the rest of the poem.

Me: Is there also a strictly poetic reason why “a spring day” wouldn’t work as well?

ChatGPT:  Yes, there are poetic reasons why “a spring day” would not work as well as “a summer’s day” in the opening line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

One reason is that “a spring day” does not have the same cultural resonance as “a summer’s day.” In Shakespeare’s time, summer was a time of festivals, celebrations, and outdoor activities, and was often associated with love and romance. “A summer’s day” would have been a more powerful image for Shakespeare’s audience than “a spring day,” which was not as strongly associated with these things.

Another reason is that “a spring day” does not have the same connotations of beauty, fullness, and richness that “a summer’s day” does. Spring is a time of growth and renewal, but it is also a time of uncertainty and change, when the weather can be unpredictable and the landscape is often barren. “A spring day” would not have the same sense of completeness or fullness that “a summer’s day” has, and would not evoke the same feelings of joy and contentment.

In short, while “a spring day” could work as a comparison, it does not have the same cultural resonance or poetic power as “a summer’s day,” and would not create the same impact for the reader.

Me:  How about number of syllables?

ChatGPT:  The number of syllables in the phrase “a spring day” is the same as in the phrase “a summer’s day,” so syllable count is not a factor that would make one phrase more suitable than the other.

Both phrases consist of four syllables and follow a pattern of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, known as an iambic foot. This pattern is common in English poetry and is used throughout Shakespeare’s sonnets.

So in terms of syllable count, both “a spring day” and “a summer’s day” would be equally suitable for use in the opening line of a sonnet. However, as I mentioned earlier, there are other poetic and cultural reasons why “a summer’s day” was a better choice for the opening line of Sonnet 18 than 

Me:  How do you get four syllables in “a spring day”?
ChatGPT:  I apologize for my mistake earlier. “A spring day” actually has three syllables, not four. I made an error in counting the number of syllables in that phrase.

To clarify, “a spring day” has the following syllable stress pattern: one unstressed syllable followed by two stressed syllables (a spring day). This is known as an anapestic foot.

Again, I apologize for my earlier mistake and any confusion it may have caused.

Me:  How about “a winter’s day” how would that do?
ChatGPT:  “A winter’s day” could also work as a comparison in a sonnet, and has been used in other poems and literary works. However, it would have a different set of connotations and associations compared to “a summer’s day.”

Winter is often associated with cold, darkness, and death, while summer is associated with warmth, light, and life. Choosing “a winter’s day” as a comparison in a poem would create a different mood and tone compared to “a summer’s day.” “A winter’s day” could be used to suggest a sense of bleakness or despair, while “a summer’s day” suggests vibrancy and abundance.

In addition, “a winter’s day” would not have the same cultural resonance and associations as “a summer’s day.” In Shakespeare’s time, winter was often a time of hardship and struggle, and was not as strongly associated with love and romance as summer was. The phrase “a winter’s day” would not have the same power and impact on Shakespeare’s audience as “a summer’s day.”

So while “a winter’s day” could be used in a similar comparison, it would create a different mood and tone and would not have the same cultural resonance and associations as “a summer’s day.”

Me:  But Christmas is a winter’s day, and most people in Shakespeare’s time liked Christmas?
It is true that Christmas is a winter’s day, and it was an important holiday in Shakespeare’s time. However, it is important to note that Christmas was celebrated differently in Shakespeare’s time than it is today, and was not universally beloved.

During the early modern period, Christmas was a time of feasting, drinking, and revelry, but it was also a time of social upheaval and conflict. In some parts of England, Christmas celebrations were seen as disruptive and even subversive, and there were periodic attempts by authorities to suppress or regulate them.

Additionally, while “a winter’s day” may be associated with Christmas for some people, it is not necessarily the primary or most prominent association. As I mentioned earlier, winter is often associated with cold, darkness, and death, and these associations would also be evoked by the phrase “a winter’s day.”

So while “a winter’s day” could be used as a comparison in a poem, it would create a different mood and tone compared to “a summer’s day,” and would not necessarily have the same cultural resonance and associations as Christmas.

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Artificial Intelligence & Robotics, as Viewed From the Early 1950s

In the early 1950s, electronic computers were large and awe-inspiring, and were often referred to as ‘electronic brains’.  At the same time, industrial automation was making considerable advances, and much more was expected from it.  There was considerable speculation about what all this meant for Americans, and for the human race in general.

Given the recent advances of AI and robotics in our own era–and the positive and negative forecasts about the implications–I thought it might be interesting to go back and look at two short story collections on this general theme:  Thinking Machines, edited by Groff Conklin, and The Robot and the Man, edited by Martin Greenberg.  Both books date from around 1954. Here are some of the stories I thought were most interesting, mostly from the above sources but also a couple of them from other places.

Virtuouso, by Herbert Goldstone.  A famous musician has acquired a robot for household tasks.  The robot–dubbed ‘Rollo’ by the Masestro–notices the piano in the residence, and expresses interest in it.  Intrigued, the Maestro plays ‘Claire de Lune’ for Rollo, then gives him a one-hour lesson and heads off to bed, after authorizing the robot to practice playing on his own.  He wakes to the sound of Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’.

Rollo was playing it. He was creating it, breathing it, drawing it through silver flame. Time became meaningless, suspended in midair.

“It was not very difficult,” Rollo explains.

The Maestro let his fingers rest on the keys, strangely foreign now. “Music! He breathed. “I may have heard it that way in my soul. I know Beethoven did.

Very excited, the Maestro sets up plans for Rollo to give a concert–for “Conductors, concert pianists, composers, my manager.  All the giants of music, Rollo.  Wait until they hear you play!”

But Rollo’s response is unexpected.  He says that his programming provides the option to decline any request that he considers harmful to his owner, and that therefore,  he must refuse to touch the piano again.  “The piano is not a machine,” that powerful inhuman voice droned.  “To me, yes.  I can translate the notes into sounds at a glance.  From only a few I am able to grasp at once the composer’s conception.  It is easy for me.”

“I can also grasp,” the brassy monotone rolled through the studio, that this…music is not for robots.  It is for man.  To me it is easy, yes…it was not meant to be easy.”

The Jester, by William Tenn.   In this story, it is not a musician but a comedian who seeks robotic involvement in his profession.   Mr Lester…Lester the Jester, the glib sahib of ad lib…thinks it might be useful to have a robot partner for his video performances.  It does not work out well for him.

Boomerang, by Frank Russell.  In this story, the robot is designed to be an assassin, acting on behalf of a group representing the New Order.   Very human in appearance and behavior, it is charged with gaining access to targeted leaders and killing them. If it is faced with an insoluble problem–for example, if the human-appearing ‘William Smith’ should be arrested and cannot talk his way out of the situation–then it will detonate an internal charge and destroy itself.  As a precaution, it has been made impossible for the robot to focus its lethal rays on its makers. And, it is possessed of a certain kind of emotional drive–“William Smith hates personal power inasmuch as a complex machine can be induced to hate anything.  Therefore, he is the ideal instrument for destroying such power.”

What could possibly go wrong?

Mechanical Answer, by John D MacDonald.  For reasons that are never explained, the development of a Thinking Machine has become a major national priority. After continued failures by elite scientists, a practical engineer and factory manager named Joe Kaden is drafted to run the project. And I do mean drafted: running the Thinking Machine project means being separated from his wife Jane, who he adores. And even though Joe has a record of inventiveness, which is the reason he was offered the Thinking Machine job in the first place, he questions his ability to make a contribution in this role.

But Jane, who has studied neurology and psychiatry, feeds him some ideas that hold the key to success.  Her idea…basically, a matrix of associations among words and concepts..allows the machine to show more ‘creativity’ than previous approaches, and it shows great skills as a kind of Super-ChatGPT question-answerer.

When the Thinking Machine is demonstrated to an audience which includes not only its American sponsors but the Dictator of Asia, the Ruler of Europe, and the King of the States of Africa, the questions to be asked have been carefully vetted.  But when it is asked an unvetted question–“Will the machine help in the event of a war between nations?”…the answer given is unexpected:  “Warfare should now become avoidable.  All of the factors in any dispute can be give to the Machine and an unemotional fair answer can be rendered.”

Of course.

Burning Bright, by John Browning.  A large number of robots are used to work in the radiation-saturated environment within nuclear power plants.  The internal mental processes of these robots are not well understood, hence, no robots are allowed outside of the power plants–it is feared that robot armies could be raised on behalf of hostile powers, or even that robots themselves will become rivals of humans for control of the planet.  So robots are given no knowledge of the world outside of power plants, no knowledge of anything except their duty of obedience to humans.  And whenever a robot becomes too worn-out to be of any continued usefulness, it is scrapped–and its brain are dissolved in acid.

One day, a robot facing its doom is found to have a molded plastic star in its hands–apparently a religious object.

Though Dreamers, Die, Lester del Rey.  Following the outbreak of a plague which looks like it may destroy all human life on earth, a starship is launched. A small group of humans, who must be kept in suspended animation because of the great length of the journey to a habitable planet, is assisted by a crew of robots.  When the principal human character, Jorgan, is awakened by a robot, he assumes that the ship must be nearing its destination.  It is, but the news is grim.  All of the other humans on board have died–Jorgen, for some reason, seems to be immune to the plague, at least so far. And among those who did not survive Anna Holt, the only woman.

If it had been Anna Holt who had survived, Jorgen reflects, she could have continued the human race by using the frozen sperm that has been stored. “So it took the girl!  It took the girl, Five, when it could half left her and chosen me…The gods had to leave one uselessly immune man to make their irony complete it seems!  Immune”

“No, master,” the robot replies. The disease as been greatly slowed in the case of Jorgen, but it will get him in the end–maybe after thirty years.

“Immunity or delay, what difference now?  What happens to all our dreams when the last dreamer dies, Five?  Or maybe it’s the other way around.”

All the dreams of a thousand generations of men had been concentrated into Anna Holt, he reflects, and were gone with her.  The ship lands on the new world, and it appears to be perfect for humans.  “It had to be perfect, Five,” he said, not bitterly, but in numbed fatalism. “Without that, the joke would have been flat.”

Man and robot discuss the world that could have been, the city and the statue to commemorate their landing. “Dreams!” Jorgen erupts. “Still, the dream was beautiful, just as this planet is, master.” Five responds.  “Standing there, while we landed, I could see the city, and I almost dared hope.  I do not regret the dream I had.”

Jorgen decides that the heritage of humanity can go on–“When the last dreamer died, the dream would go on, because it was stronger than those who had created it; somewhere, somehow, it would find new dreamers.”  And Five’s simpatico words–combined with a cryptic partial recording about robot minds and the semantics of the first person signature,  left by the expedition’s leader, Dr Craig–convince him that the robots can carry forward the deeper meaning of the human race.  Five demurs, though:  “But it would be a lonely world, Master Jordan, filled with memories of your people, and the dreams we had would be barren for us.”

There is a solution, though. The robots are instructed to forget all knowledge of or related to the human race, although all their other  knowledge will remain. And Jorgen boards the starship and blasts off alone.

Dumb Waiter, Walter Miller.  (The author is best known for his classic post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz)   In this story, cities have become fully automated—municipal services are provided by robots linked to a central computer system.  But when war erupted–featuring radiological attacks–some of the population was killed, and the others evacuated the cities. In the city that is the focus of the story, there are no people left, but “Central” and its subunits are working fine, doing what they were programmed to do many years earlier.

I was reminded of this story in 2013 by the behavior of the Swedish police during rampant rioting–issuing parking tickets to burned-out cars.  My post is here.

The combination of human bureaucracy and not-too-intelligent automation is seems likely to lead to many events which are similar in kind if not (hopefully) in degree.

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