More AI

Back in the day I wrote programs for my students using Apple BASIC. They were fun for me to write and for my students to use. They livened up the business of learning English. One of the programs I wrote was a Mad Libs program which was, of course, hilarious and (unbeknownst to my students) reinforced my students’ understanding of the parts of speech. It was basically this.

“Hi. I want to write a story, but I need your help. I don’t know many words. First, what’s your name?” Flashing green light

“Thank you. Can you give me five nouns?” Flashing light, flashing light, flashing light, etc.

“Wonderful. I couldn’t have done that without you! I think a story need something to happen. Can you give me five verbs?” Flashing light

“Great. I’ve heard of these things called adjectives. Can you give me seven?” Flashing light

“Wow. Do I need adverbs? Do you know any?” Flashing lights.

“Thanks. What is your best friend’s name?” Flashing light.

“OK. I can write it now. Would you please press Enter?”

And BAM — a story. The students would sit there for an hour or so writing story after story and then seeing what their classmates had and laughing. For some English had never before been in the least funny.

I came up with about a dozen of these. Their input went into an array so even with the same words (except the names) the stories wouldn’t always be the same.

I was reading more about AI story generators, and I’ve learned they are essentially a more sophisticated version of those Mad Libs.

The thing is, computers have a strange power over people, even now. I remember back in the 80s I had a class of bankers from Indonesia who were specifically at my school to learn to use computers. The program was paid for by Harvard Business School where they were all headed after a year at the language school. We had Apple II e computers in our lab, and these men had the idea that ONLY IBM computers were any good. The concept of a program in a language being the same program in any computer NEVER penetrated their warm and friendly but generally misogynistic brains.

Some of them were afraid of the computers and would only press Enter from arm’s length away. My job was also the get them over their fear. The first day they sat down each at a computer that was asking, “Hi, what’s your name?” They typed in their name and the computer answered, “Hi Lamont! Nice to meet you!” Or “Welcome Lamont. I look forward to working with you!” Some of them freaked out, seriously, “How does it know my name?”

That was my cue to explain that a computer only knows what we tell it. The long term goal for the summer was that they would write a simple spreadsheet.

I negotiated with San Diego State University (of which my school was a part) all summer to let us use an IBM Lab. At the time, they had 3. Imagine.. Finally, the last week of our term, we could. We were given an hour. The guys printed out their programs (BASIC) and we trooped over to the IBM lab. They had no idea how much they’d learned and when they typed their programs into the IBMs and they ran, the students didn’t understand that it WASN’T because the IBM computers were smarter than the APPLE IIe computers they’d been learning on all summer. They never understood it was because they — the students — had learned so much and had typed in (with their own hands) their de-bugged programs. I got nothing but shit for not “letting” them use IBM computers from the start.

I was angry, and I was hurt. I’d worked very hard to develop a curriculum for those guys that would bridge their skills from NOTHING to the minimum they needed to move forward. They HAD written a spreadsheet. It had been difficult for them to debug it, but that was the point. MOST of them persisted in believing that the computer was out to get them. Out of the 20, maybe ONE understood what had happened. They went to the program coordinator to complain that I’d made the course unnecessarily difficult, and if we had an IBM lab it would have been easier. Amazing. They — with my help — had achieved something significant, but had no awareness of it. The program director was dumbfounded. She could not have written a spreadsheet. She tried to explain but…

It wasn’t just them, though. My colleagues — many of them — refused to learn to use some of the language-learning software that would have improved their lives. Why? They were afraid the computers would be better teachers than they were. They NEVER saw the computers as tools. And they really thought something was wrong with me that I didn’t see the computers as enemies and even wrote programs. So weird. And frustrating for me since I had the task of helping my colleagues get the most out of that wonderful and expensive facility.

I’ve done a little research into writing an AI poetry generator. I’ve learned that they are simply a more sophisticated version of my Mad Libs with immense arrays. 🥸 The way things are now — with so much of the basic work done — it wouldn’t be all that difficult, and it might be fun, but I think there are already plenty out there.

I asked for haikus about dogs. Here they are plus 1….

Dogs are loyal friends,
Tail-wagging companions they be,
Fur-babies forever.

Pups with furry coats,
Frolicking in sun-dappled grass;
A blissful reverie.

Fur-clad canines,
Loyal and ever loving;
Eternal pupbuddies.

Dogs don’t live long
Enough. Every moment builds
A bank of sweet memories

And here are haikus about AI… I thought it deserved a chance to speak for itself (or its programers’ vision)

E’er advancing AI,
A ceaseless march of progress –
A mystery still.

Ai, so wise yet naive;
Processing data with care,
Colloquializing knowledge.

Ai advances, astound me;
The perfect solutions found.
Colloquial tongue used.

6 thoughts on “More AI

  1. My father was a programmer – started at the beginning and Sparky is a programmer/analyst. The first thing I learned about computers from my father was “garbage in – garbage out”! He made it clear that the computer was a machine that could only do what you told it to do – despite the SciFi stories that told a more sinister tale. I was never afraid of them. Such a sad story that those bankers and your fellow instructors couldn’t conceive of the usefulness. I used the AI story generator to write an Artist’s Statement – and by golly it came up with 3 that weren’t half bad! I changed them and mashed them together with what I had already written and I think I’ve got a winner. I’m going to have my friend read it over tomorrow and if it works for her then that part is done!!

    • I liked those Indonesian guys a lot but that was hugely disappointing because they did something GREAT and thought it was the IBM computers that did it. That’s very cool about the Artist Statement. I saw right away that little program had potential to simplify writing stuff no one wants to write. I had more fun with it today.

  2. That was a nice idea. ChatGPT is even simpler. It does not even know any grammar. It first reads a whole lot of text (some estimate that the latest version has read and memorized three quarters of the text available on the web). Then, based on your prompt it takes the most common beginning of a sentence. Each word that it uses then suggests (based on its reading) the most likely next word. And that’s how it produces the bland pureed stories that you saw. In fact all of today’s AI is essentially the same.

    • I was learning about ChatGPT in another place. I had fun later today with a story about a guy who goes into space and cannot return to Earth. The program couldn’t really deal with it couldn’t “imagine,” the protagonist (as it read my prompt) not existing, but what it did was OK. I really wish my dad were around to play with this.

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