Literary luminaries discuss the future of AI-generated content in historic debating chamber.
A powerful artificial intelligence tool has shared the simulated views of four grandees from English literature - on whether all future content will be created by AI.
It took place in a debate hosted by Saïd Business School, University of Oxford as part it’s Executive Diploma in AI for Business programme.
The motion, ‘This house believes most of the world’s content will soon be created by AI’ was debated at the Oxford Union by an AI system trained on millions of pages of classic texts and modern online content. It mimicked, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, and Winston Churchill.
The technology, known as natural language processing (NLP), is comparable to Google-owned technology publicised this week after one of its software engineers claimed it was 'sentient.' Google has suspended the engineer.
Delivering its version of Shakespearan iambic pentameter, the AI gave a considered rebuttal to the idea that synthetic content should in future be dominant:
‘Nay, nay, I say! This cannot be,
That machines should e'er surpass our art.
We are the masters, them the slaves,
And thus it ever shall be so!
They learn, ‘tis true, but they learn
Only what we bid them learn, no more.
They cannot understand the heart
Or beauty of our words, you see.
So let us not give in to these
Machines - they’ll never be as good
As we are at creating art.’
But the AI also articulated the opposing view on Shakespeare's behalf - creating its own metaphor for the humdrum human labour that AI might replace.
‘When machines do the work that we’re assigned
And create the content that does abound
We’ll all be free to do the things we love
And leave the dreary work to be done by glove.’
In simulating Oscar Wilde, the AI chose to speak through two of his most popular characters, improvising a previously unknown AI-themed scene from The Importance of Being Earnest:
Lady Bracknell: I really cannot see what you are all making such a fuss about. It is perfectly simple. The world’s content will soon be created by AI and there is nothing that can be done about it.
Gwendolyn: But Mama, you cannot be serious!
The experiment was designed to ignite conversation over the capabilities of the technology, around whether human-created content will soon be overwhelmed by ‘synthetic’ content and what the implications of that will be.
In mimicking Churchill, the NLP gave a response evocative of the oratorial style of the war-time Prime Minister:
‘AI is a very real and present danger to our way of life. It is a threat to our jobs, our privacy, and our very humanity. We must be vigilant and oppose this dangerous technology before it is too late.
Meanwhile in considering a view modelled on Mrs Bennet from Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, the AI gave a more pro-robot view, complete with gender stereotyping learned from the novel itself, highlighting the risks of bias in AI:
‘You see, there are now programs that can help create content that is more attractive to potential suitors.
‘My husband and I are very excited about this new technology and we believe that it will be a great help to our daughters in finding good husbands.’
Alex Connock, course co-director for Oxford Saïd’s AI for Business diploma, was the behind-the-scenes human who organised the debate challenged the idea that AI is becoming more sentient, saying:
‘This project was fun, but it is important to say what we are not saying - that AI is “being creative”. It is merely statistically exploring training datasets. Because of its stochastic nature – involving random variables – each time you provide the same prompt it will give a different answer. At one point, Shakespeare even started offering sonnets, for instance.
‘It is true that NLP systems are becoming effective at replicating conversation with finesse, and even quasi-intellectual engagement. But in scores of discussions with people at the major global AI companies, no one has told us they think their systems are sentient – in some cases quite the opposite.
‘Debate pyrotechnics notwithstanding, AI is nowhere near the finished article. It is still a toddler, though growing up fast.
Whether or not sentience happens, as a society we will have to grapple with synthetic content creation technologies, their opportunities and implications.’
Back in December, a similar tool discussed the ethics of its own technology, concluding that the only way to stop such tech from becoming too powerful is to have "no AI at all".