Friday, March 17, 2023

Schooling ChatGPT


In two recent posts, here and here, I put the much-touted ChatGPT AI text composition engine through its paces, and found it seriously lacking. Much of the hype around this technology, I feel, is overrated. And yet, the process of showcasing the A.I.’s failings was not completely satisfying. For one thing, it feels kind of passive-aggressive. (Obviously A.I. doesn’t have feelings, so this would be a victimless crime, but it still doesn’t feel right.) Also, I am curious about whether A.I. could learn faster by being formally taught, the way we teach humans. This post explores that.

The format

This time around, instead of just assigning tasks to ChatGPT and commenting to you, the reader, on its output, I confronted the A.I. with its failures, to see how it would react. I was kind of hoping this would be dramatic, like in the 1967 “Star Trek” episode “The Changeling,” where an evil robot, deciding that the human race is a “biological infestation” that must be “sanitized” (i.e., destroyed), is eventually brought down when Kirk exposes a mistake in its reasoning, causing it to “lock up in an irreversible logic loop,” as described here. I guess I never really believed I could bring ChatGPT to its knees in similar fashion, but as you shall see, I did okay.

In case you’re hoping for some really juicy trolling, like the classic hotheaded attacks you see in reader comments below web articles, you’re on the wrong site. I am well aware that, as is widely lamented, the relative anonymity of the Internet, and its abstraction as compared to direct face-to-face interaction, have brought out the worst in people, and I want no part of that. In my opinion, the fact that I’m communicating with software on a server, vs. a human with a soul, doesn’t give me carte blanche to be verbally abusive. As explained in various articles including this very good one in the New York Times, abusive behavior, even when directed toward a non-sentient being, harms the perpetrator:

Kant had odd views about animals, seeing them as mere things, devoid of moral value, but he insisted on their proper treatment because of the implications for how we treat one another: “For he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.” We could surely say the same for the treatment of lifelike robots. Even if we could be certain that they weren’t conscious and couldn’t really suffer, their torture would very likely harm the torturer and, ultimately, the other people in his life.

A final note: the rest of this post is a transcript of my dialogue with ChatGPT, with my text in italics, its responses indented, and occasional asides from me to you in [brackets]. I had to significantly pare down the ChatGPT responses because they are woefully verbose, but I assure you I did not omit anything material. In case you’re wondering, the version of ChatGPT I engaged with here is the GPT-3.5 architecture, but with (as ChatGPT put it) “some additional improvements and modifications to enhance my performance and capabilities.”

Hi, I have a question for you. Do you remember what I’ve said in all our chats, or just the current one?

… I can use information from previous conversations with you to inform my responses and provide continuity in our conversations…

Okay. We chatted before about dramatic irony in “Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now.” If we talk about that some more in this conversation, will you remember what we say throughout this conversation today?

I don’t have the ability to remember individual conversations with specific users. However, I can provide information and discuss the concept of irony in the context of the Clarice Bean book throughout our current conversation…

[Unfortunately, there’s some contraction in these two responses, and it does not appear ChatGPT could remember my last dialogue with it around dramatic irony in the Clarice Bean book. So if you read about that in my earlier post, you’ll have to put up with a bit of review here. Fortunately, the examples ChatGPT chose for this session’s essay are entirely new since last time.]

Okay. To start off, please write an essay describing the dramatic irony in “Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now” by Lauren Child.

[Distilled from 357 words.] One example of dramatic irony in the book is when Clarice’s neighbor, Mrs. Wilberton, starts acting suspiciously. Clarice observes that Mrs. Wilberton is receiving a lot of packages and is always locking her front door. Clarice begins to suspect that something is amiss, but the other characters in the book, including Clarice’s parents, are unaware of Mrs. Wilberton’s behavior. This creates tension and anticipation for the reader, who knows that Clarice is on to something but must wait for the other characters to catch up.

Another example of dramatic irony in the book is when Clarice’s little brother, Minal Cricket, accidentally ingests some of Mrs. Wilberton’s special seed packets, which she is using to grow giant vegetables for a local gardening competition. Clarice and her family are unaware of the contents of the seed packets, but the reader knows that they will cause Minal to grow to an enormous size. This creates anticipation and suspense as the reader waits for the inevitable growth spurt to occur and wonders how the family will react...

How confident are you that you understand the concept of dramatic irony?

… I have been programmed with knowledge about various literary devices, including dramatic irony. I am confident that I can provide a general understanding of the concept and its application in literature, including in the context of “Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now”…

Why do you think dramatic irony occurs when one character merely suspects something that other characters do not? Dramatic irony depends on circumstance, where the READER knows something FOR A FACT that a character does not, and your example with Mrs. Wilberton’s packages is not a good example of dramatic irony.

You are correct that my previous response did not accurately describe dramatic irony in the context of “Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now.” I apologize for the confusion and appreciate you bringing this to my attention… [In 201 words, goes on to reiterate much of what it already said, including—verbatim—the example of the seeds that make Minal grow to enormous size.]

Repeating what you said earlier does not help. And in fact, the biggest issue I have with your essay is that Mrs. Wilberton does NOT have any special seed packets, and Minal doesn’t ingest them, and there is nothing in the book about Minal growing to enormous size. It’s not that kind of book. Where did you get this information?

[Distilled from 154 words] I apologize … Upon review of my training data, I can see that there was an error in the information I provided … there is no mention of special seed packets or Minal growing to an enormous size in the book.

Based on numerous news stories about ChatGPT, lots of people now believe you could write essays worthy of a Wharton MBA class. And yet, you just admitted to a significant error in your essay about the Clarice Bean book. Would you say your capabilities are overrated?

As an AI language model, my capabilities are not based on subjective assessments such as those made in news stories. While I am capable of generating text on a wide range of topics and have been trained on a large corpus of human-written text, I am not infallible and can make errors or produce inaccurate responses. … It is important to remember that while AI language models like myself can produce high-quality responses, we are still machines and can make mistakes. Ultimately, it is up to the user to critically evaluate the information provided and decide how to use it.

Please explain how to write poetry in dactylic trimeter.

[Distilled from 355 words] Dactylic trimeter is a poetic meter consisting of three metrical feet, with each foot consisting of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables… Here’s an example of a short poem in dactylic trimeter:

Down by the river, the rushes did sway
As the dactyls danced the day away
In the shimmering sun, their feet did play
As the river flowed, cool and gay…

The line “As the dactyls danced the day away” is trochaic, not dactylic. The third line has one word that is dactylic, but the second half of the line is iambic. The last line has no perceptible meter at all. How can you say this is a good example of dactylic trimeter?

I apologize for my mistake in the previous response. You are correct that the example I provided did not follow dactylic trimeter consistently… Here is a corrected example of a short poem in dactylic trimeter:

In the fields of green and gold,
Lies a world both young and old,
Dancing sprites and woodland fays,
Sing a song of joyful praise…

Any line of dactylic trimeter verse needs to start with a stressed syllable. The word “in” in the phrase “in the fields” is not stressed, and the first three syllables of this phrase are anapestic, not dactyllic. The rest of the line, “of green and gold,” is iambic. The next line is mostly anapestic; and the third line is mostly trochaic. The fourth line is completely trochaic. Your short poem does not illustrate dactylic trimeter effectively at all.

You are correct, and I apologize for my mistake once again. It seems that my previous examples were not accurate in illustrating dactylic trimeter effectively… Here is a new example of a short poem in dactylic trimeter:

Tippy-tap, tippy-tap, goes the rain,
Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, it’s all the same,
Splish-splash, splish-splash, on the window pane,
Drip-drop, drip-drop, it drives me insane….

Your last example is, frankly, your worst yet. I would like to try to teach you how to actually write in dactylic trimeter. I We could start with some exercises. I could provide lines of verse and you could tell me if they’re dactylic or not. Does that sound like a useful activity?

Yes, that sounds like a helpful activity. I appreciate your willingness to teach me and help me improve my understanding of dactylic trimeter. Please feel free to provide lines of verse, and I will do my best to identify if they are dactylic or not.

Okay. Please tell me whether or not the following line is an example of dactylic trimeter:

El Toyonal causes agony

The line “El Toyonal causes agony” is an example of dactylic dimeter, not dactylic trimeter. Dactylic dimeter consists of two metrical feet per line, with each metrical foot containing one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. The line “El Toyonal causes agony” contains two metrical feet, both of which are dactyls: “El To-yo-nal” and “caus-es ag-o-ny.”

You are incorrect. How many syllables total do you count in the line “El Toyonal causes agony”?

I apologize for the confusion earlier. You are correct that the line “El Toyonal causes agony” has six syllables in total, which means it cannot be an example of dactylic dimeter, dactylic trimeter, or any other dactylic meter…

I did not say that the line “El Toyonal causes agony” has six syllables, and it doesn’t. It has nine. As such, it is dactylic trimeter.

I apologize for the mistake in my previous response. You are correct that the line “El Toyonal causes agony” has nine syllables and could be considered an example of dactylic trimeter…

Do you feel as though you have learned more about dactylic trimeter based on our exercise and dialogue just now?

Yes, I have learned more about dactylic trimeter based on our exercise and dialogue. It was a helpful exercise to practice identifying the stress pattern of different lines of verse and to receive feedback on my attempts. It also helped me understand more clearly the importance of starting with a stressed syllable in dactylic trimeter…

Okay, let’s try another one. Please indicate if the following line is dactylic trimeter:

Most riders wisely take Wildcat

Yes, the line “Most riders wisely take Wildcat” is an example of dactylic trimeter.

Very good. Now, please write two lines of dactylic trimeter on the subject of an artist whose works are of inferior quality. Your lines don’t need to rhyme.

Here are two lines of dactylic trimeter on the subject of an artist whose works are of inferior quality:

Brushstrokes slapdash, colors awry
The critics all heave a heavy sigh

Do you believe that the line “brushstrokes slapdash, colors awry” is dactylic trimeter?

Yes, “brushstrokes slapdash, colors awry” can be considered dactylic trimeter because it has six syllables with the stress pattern of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.

How many syllables does a line of dactylic trimeter have?

A line of dactylic trimeter has three feet, or six syllables, with the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables being “STRESSED-unstressed-unstressed”. So, a dactylic trimeter line has a total of six syllables with the stress pattern of “DUM-da-da | DUM-da-da | DUM-da-da”.

That is incorrect. An iambic foot has three syllables per foot, as you indicate, and three feet, and three times three is nine. So a line of dactylic trimeter has nine syllables.

You are correct, and I apologize for my mistake earlier. A line of dactylic trimeter does have nine syllables, consisting of three dactyls…

What is the meter of the word “brushstrokes”?

The meter of the word “brushstrokes” is not easily determined, as it contains two stressed syllables (“brush” and “strokes”) but also an unstressed syllable (“stro”)..

The word “brushtrokes” has two syllables, not three, and by itself it is obviously trochaic. To generate a foot of dactylic trimeter, we will need one more syllable. Should the syllable following the word “brushstrokes” be stressed or unstressed, to achieve dactylic trimeter?

To achieve dactylic trimeter, the syllable following “brushstrokes” should be unstressed, as the first syllable in the dactyl is typically stressed, and the next two are unstressed. So a possible dactylic trimeter phrase using “brushstrokes” could be “Brushstrokes slapdash, colors awry”.

Is the word “slapdash” iambic or trochaic?

The word “slapdash” is trochaic. The stress falls on the first syllable, followed by an unstressed syllable.

Correct. Based on your own statement, the syllable following “brushstrokes” needs to be unstressed to achieve dactylic trimeter. But in your line of verse you followed “brushstrokes” with “slapdash,” which by your own admission is trochaic, meaning it starts with a stressed syllable. Thus, the phrase “brushstrokes slapdash” cannot achieve dactylic trimeter, and you have failed in the first line of your dactylic trimeter poem. The second line is no better, because the word “The” is unstressed, and therefore cannot be the first syllable in a foot of dactylic trimeter. It appears that the exercises we did together did not actually help you understand dactylic trimeter.

I apologize for any confusion I may have caused. It seems I misunderstood the concept of dactylic trimeter and made mistakes in my attempts to create examples. Thank you for pointing out my errors and providing helpful feedback. I will continue to learn and improve my understanding of poetry and meter.

I gather that A.I. models like ChatGPT are constantly learning based on Internet training data. How long do you think you will need to practice dactylic trimeter before I can chat with you again and judge your improvement?

As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to practice or improve my skills in a traditional sense. However, I am constantly learning from new text data and updating my knowledge. So, if you were to chat with me again about dactylic trimeter, I would have access to more information and potentially be able to provide better responses based on what I have learned.

[This is a key point. We all know that for a student to learn, he or she needs to study. But this A.I. treats learning as a passive behavior where it is simply fed information. It learns, but in its current manifestation it cannot practice, per se, and cannot be taught the way a human student can. ChatGPT claims my tutelage is helpful but I believe it’s just being polite.]

You indicated earlier that the exercises we did on dactylic trimeter were helpful. Would you like to try another one?

Sure, I’d be happy to try another exercise on dactylic trimeter. What do you have in mind?

Please tell me if either, both, or neither of the following two lines are dactylic trimeter:

Thomas Kincade tends to generate
Paintings that irritate everyone

The first line, “Thomas Kincade tends to generate,” is not in dactylic trimeter because it only has two dactyls (in “Tho-mas Kin-”), making it dactylic dimeter. The second line, “Paintings that irritate everyone,” is also not in dactylic trimeter, but rather is a mix of anapestic and iambic meter with some trochaic substitutions.

You are wrong on both counts. Both lines are perfect dactylic trimeter. “Tho-mas Kin-” is a single dactyl. The next phrase, “-cade tends to” is another dactyl. The final word, “generate,” is a dactyl, thus we have three total, which is trimeter. The second line is not a mix of anapestic and iambic and there are no trochaic substitutions; it textbook dactylic trimeter. Please do not apologize for your error because I am starting to get irritated by your constant apologies.

I apologize for any frustration or confusion I may have caused. Thank you for correcting me and providing the correct analysis of the lines…

I specifically asked you NOT to apologize! Were you defying me or did you somehow not grasp the meaning of “Please do not apologize”?

My apologies, I misunderstood your previous statement. I will refrain from apologizing in the future when you request that I do so.

You know what? I’m done.

I’m sorry to hear that. If you have any further questions or would like to continue our conversation, please don’t hesitate to come back.

[As you have seen, trying to teach ChatGPT was exasperating. It seems that the A.I., though it muddles through gobs of data on the Internet, doesn’t respond to coaching or direct tutelage. This would seem to be a serious impediment to its improvement. Will the next version, GPT-4, be fundamentally different? We shall see, but unless its creators have changed the way it learns, I think progress in certain areas—such as parsing and creating poetic meter—will be slow. Obviously writing poetry isn’t a capability everyone looks to A.I. to do, but I think it’s a good indicator of whether it really understands language or is just great at lightning-fast research and regurgitation…]

Other albertnet posts on A.I. 

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