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Humanist Archives: March 29, 2023, 6:45 a.m. Humanist 36.492 - From “Kubla Khan” through GPT and beyond

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 492.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2023-03-28 12:04:40+00:00
        From: William Benzon <>
        Subject: From “Kubla Khan” through GPT and beyond - 3 Quarks Daily

Fellow Humanists,

I’ve just published an essay about how I’ve come to be fascinated by large
language models. The opening two paragraphs:

> I became hooked on Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” in the Spring of 1969, my last
semester as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins. Three years later “Kubla Khan”
had become the standard against which I measured my understanding of the human
mind. That is why I am about to tell a story about how my interest in the mind
has evolved through “Kubla Khan” to include, most recently, ChatGPT. Strange as
it may seem, that poem is the vehicle through which I am coming to terms with
this new technology and arriving at a sense of its potential.
> There is a sense in which the story of that great poem can be traced back to
the 11th century invasion of Britain by the Norman French, for that’s what gave
rise to the English language. Some centuries later that story encountered a tale
born of an encounter between an Italian merchant, Marco Polo, and a Mongolian
warlord, Kubla Khan, which, when enlivened by the East India Company’s trade in
opium, set fire to the mind of Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the late 18th and
early 19th centuries. We need not trace that trajectory in any detail. I mention
it only to give a sense of the scope of this 54-line poem, which is one of the
best-known poems in the English language, and is perhaps unique in the annals of
Western literature. It has made its mark on popular culture, from Orson Welles’s
Citizen Kane, where it names Kane’s estate, Xanadu, thereby establishing the
matrix for the whole film, to a hit song and film by Olivia Newton-John, Xanadu,
and even provided that most vulgar of real-estate barons, Donald Trump, with the
name for the nightclub, Xanadu, in his now defunct Atlantic City casino.

Bill Benzon
beyond.html <

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