Some LLM-powered (bad) humor
the weather forecast: six more months of winter
One of the issues that has hindered this publication is the distinction between: is this a personal blog, or a Prestigious Publication that its contributors merely enable? As that tension resolves in the background, we have a topic that fits both: the continuing story of ChatGPT.
In short: Generative AI is getting better, but it has a long way1 to go. At least six months, and possibly two or three years, before the transformative impact is real. Certainly comedians don’t have to worry about being replaced this year …
the Newslettr Style Guide recommends avoiding the term “AI”, as a lifetime of sci-fi novels (as well as IBM commercials) have left the term almost meaningless.
The two most common terms are Generative AI and Large Language Model (LLM). Both of these, roughly, refer to a computer system that uses a neural network trained on a multi-gigabyte corpus of language-content.
ChatGPT is a specific product by the “OpenAI” company. But, much like “Kleenex” and “Google”, it is quickly becoming a generic term for the entire category of product.
I expect that, going forward, there will be a product (and linguistic) distinction between “limited-scope models that can run on your desktop computer” and “large models that run in the cloud and can do almost everything”. This distinction is not yet clear enough for us to be able to recommend specific terms to distinguish them.
The Wrong Approach
Gary Marcus is a fairly reliable contrary indicator of what is happening in the Generative AI space. So when he tweets about an “open letter” calling for a pause in the AI space, it is worth some attention.
In this situation, his take is both wrong and ineffective. There is no need for (nor any possibility of) such a pause. And writing such an open letter is completely ineffective towards the goal of manifesting such a pause.
When your opponents are making a mistake, it is best to ignore them and move on.
A Bad Joke
ChatGPT does quite well at a lot of things2. But long-form humor appears to still be beyond3 it. This was the first answer I got when I asked it to tell the “give us this day our daily chicken” joke; several similar prompts gave equally bad responses.
(apologies for the length; you can stop reading here)
So, there was this Chicken Company that was doing really well, but they wanted to expand their business. They had an idea: what if they could get people to start praying for chicken instead of bread? That way, they could corner the market on chicken sales and dominate the fast food industry. But how were they going to make this happen?
Well, they decided to send somebody to negotiate with the Catholic Church. They figured that if they could get the Church to change the Lord's Prayer to include a reference to chicken, then people would start praying for chicken instead of bread. It was a bold plan, but they were determined to make it work.
So, they sent their best negotiator, a guy named Bob, to meet with the Church officials. Bob was a slick talker and knew how to charm his way through any situation. He was confident that he could get the Church to agree to their proposal.
The negotiations started out smoothly enough. Bob presented the Chicken Company's case, and the Church officials listened politely. But as soon as Bob started suggesting changes to the Lord's Prayer, things started to go off the rails.
The first suggestion was to change "Give us this day our daily bread" to "Give us this day our daily chicken." The Church officials were skeptical, to say the least. They pointed out that bread was a symbol of sustenance and nourishment, and that changing it to chicken didn't make much sense.
Bob, however, was undeterred. He argued that chicken was just as nourishing as bread, and that it would be a great way to promote the Chicken Company's products. The negotiations went back and forth for hours, with both sides digging in their heels.
Finally, after much wrangling and arm-twisting, a compromise was reached. The new version of the Lord's Prayer would read: "Give us this day our daily breaded chicken." It was a compromise that satisfied no one, but it was the best they could do.
Now, all they had to do was get the Pope to ratify the agreement. They arranged a meeting with the Holy Father and explained the new version of the Lord's Prayer to him. To their surprise, the Pope loved the idea. He was a big fan of fried chicken, and he thought the new version of the prayer was a stroke of genius.
So, the Chicken Company had won their battle. They had successfully negotiated a change to one of the most sacred prayers in the Christian faith. But there was one problem: they were losing the Wonder Bread contract. It seemed that every time they tried to expand their business, they ended up losing something else.
In the end, though, they didn't care. They had achieved their goal of promoting chicken as the new symbol of nourishment and sustenance. And who knows? Maybe someday, people really will start praying for chicken instead of bread.
What is wrong with it? Two things. First, it completely bungled the punchline. But second, it doesn’t get the tone right either.
The standard “trick” for this type of thing is to ask it to write in the style of a comedian. Simply asking for a joke4 isn’t enough.
Unfortunately, it still isn’t funny, and even after I spell out that it is the Catholic Church (and not the chicken company) losing the Wonder Bread contract, it still doesn’t get the joke.
"Well folks, I heard that a chicken company was trying to make a deal with the Catholic church to change 'give us this day our daily bread' to 'give us this day our daily chicken'. And boy, did they have their work cut out for them. I mean, negotiating with the church can be tougher than trying to sell a Pope a timeshare in Hell.
But after much cajoling, the deal finally made it to the Pope's desk. And let me tell you, that guy's got a lot on his plate already. So when he saw the proposal, he said, 'I'll ratify this chicken deal, but only if you can promise me one thing: no more wonder bread at communion.'
So there you have it, folks. Catholics can now ask for their daily chicken, but they'll have to settle for a less-than-wondrous sacrament. I guess you could say the chicken company really put the 'fowl' in 'Our Father who art in heaven'."
It says something about the opinions I am exposed to that I view “two years before AI changes the world” as a large amount of time.
Some (better) examples from October 2022 and December 2022 are available at the Yevaud Notion Site - I expect to update it soon with an April 2023 set of examples.
I am slightly surprised this joke wasn’t in the training data for the “ChatGPT March 14” version.
It is not obvious whether the solution is smarter models, or dedicated pre-processing systems. Expecting humans to write “tell me a joke that is funny humor like George Carlin Norm MacDonald” style prompts will not be the solution.