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Feats to astonish and amaze
A compendium of things I didn't think AI should be able to do
I do a lot of experiments with various AI systems (mostly Bing in the last couple weeks - here is my guide), and I often find myself astonished.
I know that Large Language Models like Bing and ChatGPT are basically word prediction engines, but they are capable of startling results that go beyond what I might have expected from that knowledge. Indeed, the most astonishing feats of AI seem to rely on their ability to be creative through “hallucination.” This tendency of AI to make up facts is troubling in some cases, but it also allows them to provide unique and original replies by connecting unlikely sources of inspiration and finding surprising linkages. I wanted to compile some examples that came out of my experiments, some of which have been on my Twitter feed, and some of which are new.
I hope they illustrate why I find the abilities of AI to be a constant source of amazement, and why I think a focus on just using them for writing and personal assistant tasks ignores some of the most exciting things about AI.
Come up with Meaningful Connections
Large Language Models are connection machines, finding similarities between seemingly unrelated concepts. Since a lot of innovation comes from connecting two previously unexpected ideas, it isn’t surprising that LLMs are, effectively, creative. Here, I ask it to come up with a solution to a problem using a dolphin, VR headsets, and a sociological theory about social networks.
It works even under very weird circumstances: come up with movie ideas for a movie starring the cast of Fast and the Furious 8, except The Rock is replaced with a puppet of a dolphin. The movie is a historical drama set in the 1300s, and also incorporates at least one William Carlos William poem into the plot. The movie should also act as commentary on a youth fad of the 20th century.
Apply Theory to Practice, and Vice-Versa
AIs like Bing seem to be able to apply general theories to specific, never encountered examples in meaningful ways. What would Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill say about Mutually Assured Destruction? (I actually think Kant’s argument is particularly interesting).
How would Ayn Rand, Jeremy Bentham, and Plato run a bar together?
For a little more pop culture, I asked it to apply a strategy paper defining 7 types of strategic errors to Star Wars.
And I was rather blown away at the level of analysis required for Bing to answer this question: What are four sentences that I could send back in time to Ancient Rome, and that they would understand, to teach them technologies which could prevent Rome’s collapse? (It cheated a little on the sentence length, but still) It had to learn about causes of Rome’s collapse, propose technologies that could help, figure out how a Roman might understand them, and then summarize the results meaningfully. I am sure there are mistakes, but this is pretty impressive.
Build on Existing Ideas in Original Ways
Bing seems capable of working with existing content frameworks and combining them in unique ways with other knowledge. Here is one nerdy example: Star Trek has a famous episode involving the language of the Tamarians. The Tamarians communicate by using metaphors and allegories drawn from their cultural history. They use references to Tamarian heroes, myths, and legends to convey meaning in a way that can be challenging for non-Tamarians to understand. For example, the Tamarian phrase "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" is used to represent two individuals working together to overcome a common challenge. I asked Bing to create the equivalent for Americans. Here, it used the format of the fictional language, but was able to identify unique metaphors from American history that worked as language.
And the same for the TV show the Office.
As another example of applying twists to existing ideas, I asked Bing look up folktale styles using the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification of world folktales, and then rewrite those tails for imaginary cultures, such as sky pirates (the stories were great, though it sometimes gets the exact index number wrong)
And it seems to make aesthetic choices based on content. Take a look at how it responds when asked to explain the movie Titanic using only emojis…
It also did an excellent job rewriting texts in different styles.
More to explore
I think many people, including experts in these systems, are occasionally surprised about what AI can actually do (like learning chess?). That means there are many opportunities out there to discover new and unique uses for AI. These systems are available to the world, for free, and there is no guide or instruction manual. I would encourage everyone to play and experiment, and share the results of what they learn. This is an exciting time were everyone is an explorer, and the opportunities to find fascinating behaviors and useful applications are vast.