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Humanist Archives: Dec. 10, 2022, 8:04 a.m. Humanist 36.288 - death of the author 2.0

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 288.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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    [1]    From: Willard McCarty <>
           Subject: automatisation of authorship? (50)

    [2]    From: Tim Smithers <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.281: algorithms and AI (102)

    [3]    From: maurizio lana <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.286: signs of intelligence: rhyming & qual/quant sorting (59)

        Date: 2022-12-10 07:57:29+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: automatisation of authorship?

Two articles on this topic for your amusement:

(1) Jay Caspian Kang, "Could an A.I. Chatbot Rewrite My Novel?", New
Yorker for 8 December 2023, who asks, "As a young fiction writer, I
dreamed of a technology that would tell me how to get my characters from
point A to point B. Could ChatGPT be it?"

(2) Colin Burrow, "The Comeuppance Button" [cover title, "The Dreadful
Mr. Dahl"], London Review of Books 44.24, for 15 December 2023; review
of Matthew Dennison, Teller of the Unexpected: The Life of Roald Dahl,
an Unofficial Biography. Burrow's review begins thus:

> In Roald Dahl’s​ ‘The Great Automatic Grammatisator’ (1952), a couple
> of jaded men design a computerised writing machine with the aim of
> cornering the market in magazine short stories. All the ‘author’ has
> to do is press a button (‘historical, satirical, philosophical,
> political, romantic, erotic, humorous or straight’) and choose a
> style (‘classical, whimsical, racy, Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce,
> feminine etc’), and the machine will do the rest. The story says a
> lot about Dahl. ‘Feminine, etc’ is a nasty touch: for Dahl it appears
> there were no distinguishable female authors, and ‘Hemingway’ was by
> a wide margin his own favourite stylistic button to push. The machine
> also has a foot pedal which is used to boost the most valuable
> ingredient in fiction, ‘at any rate financially’: passion.
> Inexperienced users press too hard on that pedal, with queasy-making
> results.
> ‘The Great Automatic Grammatisator’ was written after the New Yorker
> had turned down one of Dahl’s stories. It is, like a lot of his
> fiction, simultaneously a vengeful satire and a wish-fulfilment
> fantasy. If you want to make a fortune as a writer all you have to do
> is push buttons, master the clichés of each genre and feed your
> audience what they want – but soft-pedal on the passion.
> In his early short stories for adults Dahl developed a distinctive
> set of button-presses out of the experiences of his life.

And I ask, why are so many being so silly?


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

        Date: 2022-12-09 09:58:50+00:00
        From: Tim Smithers <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.281: algorithms and AI

Dear Bill,

You write to Willard saying

    "I know that for several years now you’ve been calling
     for ways to think about AIs as, you know, not as
     approximations to people.  They’re new kinds of beings
     and we need to come to terms with such.  ..."

I wonder how you come to call ChatGPT, and it's ilk, beings?

This looks like a category mistake to me.  A big one.

I am, I think, a being; a human being.  And, I think other
people are beings.  ChatGPT, and it's ilk, together with
anything else human built using AI techniques, are tools;
artefacts of human efforts; used by human beings; not
approximations to people.

What's the being-ness you see in these things?  I see none.
But I do see gross misrepresentation in suggestions that they
are beings of some kind.

Best regards,


> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: 2022-12-05 17:15:59+00:00
>        From: Bill Benzon <>
>        Subject: ChatGPT is more fun than a barrel of monkeys
> Hi Willard & fellow humanists,
> You’ve no doubt heard that OpenAI has released a new chatbot to the web,
> ChatGPT. It’s based on its GPT-3 engine, first released in 2020, and it is
> of fun.   Over a million users have signed up for a free account. If you
> done so already, you should. I’ve spent several hours playing with it and have
> accrued a 30 page MSWord doc containing transcripts of my interactions. While
> lot of folks have been going at it adversarially, trying to get it to screw up
> in one way or another, I’ve not engaged in the way, except in one minor
> instance. My interactions have been cooperative. I’ve come to think of them as
> piloting ChatGPT toward a goal.
> I’ve written up some of these interactions in blog posts. Here’s one where I
> it to explain a Jerry Seinfeld bit, which it does straight off:
> Screaming on the flat part of the roller coaster ride: From GPT-3 to ChatGPT,
> <
> I chose that particular bit because I’d posted about it with the original
> which was unable to cough up a reasonable account to the joke.
> Here’s a post where I asked it to parody “Kubla Khan.” The first was so funny
> though defective as a parody in various ways, that I asked it for another.
> How ChatGPT parodied “Kubla Khan” and pwned DJT45 at the same time,
> <
> khan-and.html>
> Then I got ambitious, with a long post in which I guided it through a
> reading of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws:
> Conversing with ChatGPT about Jaws, Mimetic Desire, and Sacrifice,
> <
> jaws-mimetic-desire-and-sacrifice.html>
> Here’s a short coda:
> ChatGPT goes to the movies, Jaws and Girard @3QD,
> <
> jaws-and-girard.html>
> I know that for several years now you’ve been calling for ways to think about
> AIs as, you know, not as approximations to people. They’re new kinds of beings
> and we need to come to terms with such. I think that’s more important than
> now that millions of people will be playing with very powerful engines with
> little or now guidance and sophisticated reflection.
> There are two extreme responses to this technology, both of which make the
> mistake. Both are trying to treat these systems as things we’re already
> with. One group we’re seeing the coming a super intelligent machines, perhaps
> evil ones that will destroy humanity. We’re familiar with such devices. We’ve
> seen them in the movies. The other group says there’s nothing there; it’s just
> statistics on steroids. That’s a line Chomsky’s been pushing since the 1950s.
> Nothing there either. So we’re faced with a failure of intellectual
> This is NOT the way to sail the uncharted seas to lands unknown.
> Best,
> Bill B

        Date: 2022-12-08 17:27:38+00:00
        From: maurizio lana <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.286: signs of intelligence: rhyming & qual/quant sorting

the question could be re-phrased as: "is exposing non-existent things as
true an indication of true intelligence?"
2 days ago a friend of mine, Gino Roncaglia, had GPT-3 write a text on
the topic of "electricity in medieval Florence" (!) which starts with
these words:

> “The first recorded instance of electricity being used in Florence
> occurred in the late 13th century. In 1266, the city's council passed
> a law requiring all buildings to be equipped with lightning rods to
> protect against lightning strikes. etc. etc.
up to this point the thing is funny.
but when you see this:
> Bibliography
> • De Angelis, G. (2014). "Electricity in Medieval Florence: The
> Development of a Modern City." Renaissance Studies, 28(2), pp. 221-235.
> • Mazzoni, C. (2009). "Florence: A City of Light." In C. Mazzoni & J.
> Pater (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Literature (pp.
> 97-112). Cambridge University Press.
> • O'Malley, J. (2007). "The Development of Electricity in Medieval
> Europe." Journal of the Society for the History of Technology, 48(1),
> pp. 13-28.

your jaws drop: this a fake bibliography, none of these sources does
exist, they have been invented by GPT-3 put this in relation with the experiment 
of Thunström and others:
Thunström, Almira Osmanovic. 2022. «We Asked GPT-3 to Write an Academic
Paper about Itself - Then We Tried to Get It Published». /Scientific
American/, June 2022.

and you have the material to blast out the world of the academic


Il 08/12/22 07:59, Humanist ha scritto:
>          Date: 2022-12-08 00:35:10+00:00
>          From: Henry Schaffer<>
>          Subject: Is rhyming an indication of real intelligence?
> snoop-dogg/
> --henry


μνάσασθαί τινά φαιμι †καὶ ἕτερον† ἀμμέων
sono certa che qualcuno si ricorderà di noi anche quando ce ne saremo andati
I’m sure someone will remember us even when we’re gone
saffo, lobel-page 147

Maurizio Lana
Università del Piemonte Orientale
Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici
Piazza Roma 36 - 13100 Vercelli

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