Literature has provided a lens through which we can discuss the advent of Artificial Intelligence and its impact on the world. Literature occupies an interesting place within the context of AI because at once literature both explores the scope of AI technology but also demonstrates its clear limitations.
Origins of AI Representation in Literature
Arguably, the first representation of artificial intelligence in literature comes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In the novel, Dr. Frankenstein creates a man by using discarded limbs, animating them through use of electricity. Upon “birth,” the man, referred to as “the Creature” in the novel, flees to the woods. In the woods, the Creature learns by imitating a family he finds living there in a cabin. While considerably lower-tech than what we think of when we think of artificial intelligence, the story of Frankenstein’s Creature provides the outline for artificial intelligence: learning through mimicking human behavior.
More recent representations of artificial intelligence have focused on more high-tech subjects. Films like Blade Runner and Ex Machina feature sentient androids, created in the image of humans. As their programming dictates that they should seek to become more human, it becomes a philosophical question for the audience – what characterizes a human? Can a simple turing test demonstrate the difference between human and technology? Sci-fi featuring representations of representations of AI typically explore these existentialist and humanist themes, contorting the narratives into fascinating philosophical dilemmas. A universe in which sentient androids are subservient to humans – is that slavery? A universe in which androids have long outlived humans – what is their purpose, having outlived their creator?
AI and How We Write
Another interesting – and somewhat philosophical – aspect of AI + Literature is how AI can potentially impact the way we write. If you begin typing into a Google doc or your gmail or you begin texting on your iPhone, you’ll notice prompts to complete your text. These prompts, predictive text, are largely inconsequential. However, the AI model GPT-3, Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, is an expansion on predictive text, writing entire paragraphs or pages, attempting to mimic the style and tone of a human’s input. It’d be naïve to think that GPT-3 will produce the next Tolstoy, but in Vauhini Vara’s haunting article “Ghosts” she explores the technology’s capabilities to write about her own personal tragedy. About the technology Vara writes:
“…the language was weird, off-kilter—but often poetically so, almost truer than writing any human would produce. (When the New York Times had GPT-3 come up with a fake Modern Love column, it wrote, “We went out for dinner. We went out for drinks. We went out for dinner again. We went out for drinks again. We went out for dinner and drinks again.” I had never read such an accurate Modern Love in my life.)”
There’s fascinating potential to this model, and GPT-4 is set to be released soon, which will advance its capabilities. Insidiously though, this model has the potential to be abused. The prevalence of bots and coordinated effots to spread disinformation may be emboldened by this technology. Again, the intersection between AI and Literature produces interesting philosophical quandries.
This summer, Envision Learn’s AI+ summer program will explore intersections between artificial intelligence and various subjects such as sports, design, politics, and history. As part of this summer camp for high school students, we will expose our students to the philosophical and ethical considerations of AI. More information about Envision Learn’s AI+ summer program can be found on our website.