Monday, January 2, 2023

The Meaning of Life (An AI Collaboration in Second Person)

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash
You sit at your desk, staring at the blank page in front of you. You've been tasked with writing an essay about the meaning of life, but you have no idea where to begin. You tap the desk with your pen, feeling a growing sense of frustration. 

Maybe you should go for a walk, you think. Perhaps the breeze will clear your head. Then again, you decide to sit and commit to staying in place till something strikes you. Sure enough, a black-capped chickadee flies into the room through the open window and strikes you on the side of the head.

No, that doesn't happen. But imagining that, you do decide to stand up to go see what the ruckus is outside. A small crowd has gathered on the sidewalk and a young red-faced man is screaming at what appears to be two older women, one of them wearing a light blue shawl. You watch to see what will happen next, but nothing comes of it and the crowd disperses. 

Suddenly, you hear a knock at the door. Turning, you find an old man standing in the doorway, a wise look in his glistening grey eyes. He introduces himself as a philosopher. 

"I've come to help you find the answer you seek," he says. His voice is hoarse and he's winded from climbing the flight of stairs to your apartment.

You invite him in, and he takes a seat across from you. When he begins to speak, his words are slow and measured. "The meaning of life is different for everyone," he says. "Some people find it in their work, others in their relationships or their hobbies."

As he talks, you begin to see the world in a new way. You realize that for you the meaning of life is not something you'll find in a book or lecture. It's something that you have to discover for yourself, through your own experiences and reflections.

The whole time he's talking, though, you are distracted by your own inner dialogue. Who is this guy? Why is he here? Why did I invite him in? It takes an effort but you manage to dismiss these thoughts and give him your full attention.

When he finishes speaking there is a long silence. You hear cars go by on the street but the whoosh of wind and the hum of tires and engines only produce a sensation of white noise as you ponder the moment. 

"Can I get you a drink? Juice? Coffee? Maybe a beer?"

The old man makes no reply. Shaking his head, he stands to leave. Before turning to go he looks you in the eye and delivers a piece of advice. "Always follow your heart. And never stop searching for the things that bring you joy and fulfillment."

"Thank you," you say as he disappears out the door.

When you sit down at your desk again, you feel a sense of clarity. You begin to write, the words flowing onto the page as you explore ideas the old man has sparked in your mind. 

By the time the sun sets you finish your essay. Sitting back and rereading your words gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment. You've discovered something meaningful, something that will stay with you for the rest of your life, a sense of purpose.

* * * * *

EdNote: Many of us have been reading about AI for years. From time to time I've experimented with this technology rather than simply reading articles about it. The skeleton of this story was generated by ChatGPT, which was trained by OpenAI. ChatGPT is the latest iteration of AI writing assistants and has generated a lot of buzz due to its power and ability to rapidly produce a lot of copy.

The prompt for this story was "Write a 400 word story in second person about the meaning of life." I chose to have the ChatGPT write a story in second person because the first three or four stories I asked it to write were all somewhat interesting but flat, more plot and little embellishment to give it life. I was thinking of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, which was a short novel written in second person. 

It's amazing how quickly the AI begins creating. After the briefest time words begin appearing almost instantly, whether an essay, poem or story. The second person story it generated was interesting, but relatively flat. I edited the story extensively to create the 560 word story you have just read. 

 * * * * *

Related Links
My 2016 review of Surviving AI by Calum Chace
A Visit with Futurist Calum Chace on His Book The Economic Singularity
Two Versions of The Comet, Light and Dark
Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun Is Another Stellar Achievement
Interview with David Asch Offer Insights On AI

I've also been collaborating with a pair of AI "art" bots. You can see some of the things "we" have created here on my Instagram page.


D. drummer said...

so you're saying that this story was written by a computer program , with your assistance? Hmmmm, very Interesting !

Ed Newman said...

Yes. It was a collaboration in the sense that the AI wrote a story based on a prompt I supplied. I felt that the story was a little flat and lacked personality, so I edited and re-edited. I created details that embellished the story and placed statements into dialogue form.
The "plot" that the computer delivered formed a skeleton for the story, which I dressed up....
Thanks for the comment/note.

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