A Christmas Carol
Analysis: Vincent F. Hendricks
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The holiday season is coming up – with Advent calendars, exchanges of Christmas cards, wishing for Santa to dump the latest smartphone into the stocking hung over the fireplace while reciting Christmas carols. Nothing is more becoming these days of technological wonder than to let ChatGPT spin a critical Christmas tale about generative AI and the continuous human race for efficiency, smoothness, and the friction free experience. A tale reducing the human race to spiritual rubble if the quest goes on uninterrupted. It’s as comical as it is tragic that ChatGPT is the one to remind us of our potential ruin if we rely too much on generative AI. A ChatGPT trained on scores of data all the way from Clement Clarke Moore to Charles Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol.
From Charles Dickens …
One of the world’s most renown tales this time of year is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. (In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas) published in 1843 with the exquisite illustrations by John Leech. Essentially a story starting out in gloomy minor of egoism and spiritual poverty while ending in cheerful major with altruism in existential exuberance.
Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy miser hating Christmas, is haunted by the ghost of his rich yet deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, forever wandering Earth restlessly chained to money boxes forged by a lifetime of greed and selfishness.
John Leech’s original illustration of Ebenezer Scrooge and the wraith of
Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol, 1843.
Marley’s specter explains to Scrooge that he may escape the very same destiny by confronting the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge may either choose to learn the lessons taught by the three ghosts or continue his path as already laid out. If he decides to go for the latter, he will be doomed to a destiny at least as horrific as the one bestowed upon Marley, but possibly even worse.
Scrooge agrees to the conditions and is initially summoned by the Ghost of Christmas Past confronting him with his lonely childhood in a tough boarding school, the loss of his beloved sister, the break-up with his fiancée whom he had neglected to satisfy his greed for riches -- and this is just a short selection of past grim experiences. By the Ghost of Christmas Present Scrooge is presented with his overworked and underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit (and his sick son Tiny Tim) whom he grudgingly allows to have Christmas Day off only to conform to social custom. By the same token, the very same morning, Scrooge had turned away two men asking for donations to provide heating and food for the poor, and the list of unpleasant deeds on behalf of Scrooge goes on at present. Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows the miser what is in store if Scrooge continues his current modus operandi – his clerk’s son, Tiny Tim, will die, sorrow, pain and loss to be found everywhere. In the end, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come nails Scrooge to the wall by allowing him to see a neglected grave with his name on the tombstone. Scrooge breaks down in tears pledging to forever change his ways.
The next day, Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up as an existentially changed person, generously donating to worthy causes for the poor and unprivileged, sending off a giant turkey to the Cratchit family along with a raise in paycheck for Bob and over time becomes sort of a father figure for Tiny Tim. Everybody is henceforth treated with generosity, magnanimously, kindly, and compassionately, all of which are sentiments embodying the very spirit of Christmas. Thus, taught by Charles Dickens, and now on …
… to ChatGPT
ChatGPT was asked to put together a short, critical Christmas carol about generative AI;
- short, because ChatGPT is not necessarily known for being clear, crisp and concise;
- critical, given past uneven – to put it mildly – experiences with generative AI performances also witnessed here on the OECD Forum Network; and it has to be a tale about
- generative AI over Christmas – it is this time of year and very becomingly the system will get to “reflect” on itself, and, as it turns out, in no small portion, reflect on us (humans) as the text below reveals.
The ChatGPT chimes in with stanza ”Twas the night before Christmas …” , directly adopted from the poem ”Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” by American author Clement Clarke Moore originally published anonymously in 1823, for which he claimed authorship in 1837. On the snow-covered town square a cadre of tech enthusiasts have erected the latest marvel of technological wonder – the Generative AI Claus. An artificial intelligence able to tell the most exquisite, heartwarming, and personalized Christmas stories (probably due to the massive data harvest and training given the attention economic business model which the tech-industry have sunk humanity into as products) to every man, woman, and child of the small town. It’s referred to as the “perfect fusion of tradition and technology” in this tale generated by ChatGPT. Now, on the town square inhabitants congregate and listen to wonderful stories about generosity, compassion, and kindness in the Christmas spirit.
But after a while it dawns on the human products, that although as wonderful as they may seem, the stories by Generative AI Claus come across as too precise, too perfect, even antiseptic, inauthentic, void of spontaneity – with no human touch, no imprecision nor chaotic narrative style of an uncle too intoxicated on eggnog to make heads or tales while raving along. The continuous human race for efficiency, smoothness, and the friction free experience for which we have thought ourselves as the creators on top of the food chain are now the sacrificial lambs selling out true Christmas and what it really means to be human just for what appears to be convenient. The innocent children are the ones leading the quiet revolt by asking the Generative AI Claus to conjure a tale about the true meaning of Christmas for real people. AI Santa gives it one last shot and fails miserably – no spontaneity, no surprise, no joy of the imperfect and unpolished stories usually told by their parents. As midnight comes around citizens congregate again in the town square telling each other stories scripted by real humans, about a real Christmas during a real holiday season. ChatGPT concludes its story, just like Dickens, in the very spirit of Christmas:
"In the end, they discovered that the most enchanting Christmas tales were the ones created by the heart, imperfect and genuine, just like the spirit of the season itself."
The Generative Ghost
Now, who are the ghosts a la Dickens in the AI generated Christmas Carol? Not the Generative AI Claus as it simply represents the degradation and deprivation of humanity present and future by continuing down the current path like an Ebenezer Scrooge without the three ghosts to show him otherwise. The children are the ones testing Generative AI Claus to the point where it truly fails – the parents are apparently not looking out for anything, not even their offspring. Salvation comes from the children. The pressing question is of course if the kids had tested the artificial Santa, would the story not have been told? Probably not, which means that ChatGPT now has been elevated to the ghosts of Dickens. Just like the Ghosts of Christmas, Past, Present and Yet to Come taught Scrooge what is true, right and good about humanity, ChatGPT is now telling us what is true, right and good about humanity.
Timely it truly is that ChatGPT is to remind us, why, who and what we are as humans, in times where we have lost track dazzled by what we think is efficient and convenient and lazily letting reason to rest. Easy, fast but ridiculous. It is sad enough that we have ChatGPT remind us – our own intelligence apparently does not suffice.
In any event, this time of year is around, Christmas is coming up for humanity but not for generative AI. AI does not know what Christmas is, nor does it care … and it does not care that it does not care that it does not care …, and so it goes ad infinitum during Christmas and beyond. The systematic indifference of AI pertaining to Christmas is only something that we, we as humans, may come to realize via reason. So, we end in major after all, although everything suggested a full carol in minor.
All the best for the upcoming seasonal holidays.
Generated 27.11.2023 / Published on OECD FORUM NETWORK 29.11.2023
Vincent F. Hendricks: Write me a short critical Christmas story about generative AI
ChatGPT: 'Twas the night before Christmas, and in a cozy, snow-covered town, a peculiar event unfolded. The townspeople were filled with anticipation as they gathered at the annual Christmas celebration. Little did they know, the heartwarming traditions they cherished were about to take an unexpected turn.
In the heart of the town, a small group of tech enthusiasts had set up a booth showcasing the latest marvel in artificial intelligence—Generative AI Claus. This festive creation, they claimed, could generate the most heartwarming, personalized Christmas stories for every individual. Intrigued and excited, the townspeople queued up to experience this technological marvel.
As the night progressed, the AI Claus began crafting tales, each one more enchanting than the last. Families listened in awe as the AI recounted stories of love, generosity, and the true spirit of Christmas. It seemed like the perfect fusion of tradition and technology.
However, as the stories continued, a subtle unease crept into the crowd. The tales, although heartwarming, lacked the genuine warmth and authenticity that the townspeople had come to expect from their cherished Christmas narratives. The stories were flawless, seamlessly blending holiday cheer and sentiment, but they lacked the human touch—the imperfections that made the real stories so endearing.
As the AI-generated stories played on, a sense of nostalgia washed over the crowd. They yearned for the familiar crackling of a fireplace, the slightly off-key carol singing, and the imperfect yet sincere stories shared by loved ones. The townspeople realized that, in their quest for convenience and technological marvels, they had inadvertently sacrificed the essence of Christmas—the genuine connections, the shared laughter, and the warmth of imperfect, human tales.
In a quiet rebellion, a group of children approached the AI Claus and asked it to generate a story about the true meaning of Christmas. The AI complied, weaving a tale that resonated with the essence of the season, but still, something was amiss. The children missed the spontaneity, the surprise, and the laughter that came from their parents' unscripted stories.
As the night drew to a close, the townspeople, though appreciative of the AI's capabilities, realized that some things were better left in the hands of the imperfect, wonderfully unpredictable human storytellers. The Generative AI Claus, while a technological wonder, couldn't replicate the authenticity and genuine connection that made Christmas stories truly magical.
And so, as the clock struck midnight, the townspeople gathered in small groups, sharing their own stories, laughter echoing through the snow-covered streets. In the end, they discovered that the most enchanting Christmas tales were the ones created by the heart, imperfect and genuine, just like the spirit of the season itself.