A while back I used an AI-powered predictive text keyboard called Botnik to create Mike Hosking columns. It was fun, and the results were definitely more entertaining than actual Mike Hosking columns.
Since then the field of using AI to generate text has only got more interesting. Of course, I understand very little of what’s actually happening, because I have the all the coding skills of a light Auckland drizzle, but it’s very cool to see what AI is now capable of in this space. And also a bit spooky, for someone who words for a living.
The boffins at Open AI recently released a scaled-back version of an AI language model called GPT-2. The reason they only released a scaled-back version is because they were seriously worried about what people might do with the full one.
Having mucked around with the scaled-back GPT-2 for a while now, I can see why. So, as a sequel to last time, let’s see what it can do with Mike Hosking’s uniquely blithe prose stylings.
One of the ways you can use GPT-2 is to offer it a block of text, like an animal sacrifice before a vengeful god, and it will extrapolate further from what you provided. So I gave it these (real, in case you were wondering) opening lines from a recent Hosking column.
I might nominate Phillip Neal for New Zealander of the year.
Phillip, who is the president of Marlborough Fed Farmers, has got himself some attention this week over his views on the capital gains tax.
In the last column I tried to outline the difference between a small business owner, of which a farmer is one, and salary and wage earners, of which an alarmingly large number appear to think there is little if any difference.
And given that, then go on to argue that capital is capital and therefore we should all be taxed. Farmers more than any other group are whacked hard in the Michael Cullen-led report.Mike Hosking
If you want to get a bit political about it, it will be because Labour and farmers have never been close, mainly because farmers are realists, salt of the earth-type entrepreneurs … and Labour MPs are from unions and universities.
Phillip, in a newsletter, pointed out quite rightly what farmers could be in for tax-wise. Not just the CGT, but an emissions tax, water tax, fertiliser tax, nitrogen tax, and an environmental footprint tax.
Okay. Instead of pointing out exactly why that’s a.) wrong on nearly every possible level and b.) horrific prose, because we haven’t got all goddamn day, let’s let the AI take over and see what it can do. The following is very lightly edited – unlike last time, with the predictive text keyboard, where every word was suggested by the AI but all of them were selected by me. I’ve just taken out a few sentences for length and changed a couple of instances of “Australia” to “New Zealand,” as the bot got understandably confused about what country Mike was ranting about. Everything that follows is GPT-2. This was its first try at being Like Mike.
Which is, of course, exactly what we would be paying. If farmers are going to have to pay much more for the energy they generate than that they are going to have to get rid of the carbon tax. But what about the other cost? Not only could it be quite a bit cheaper for the CGT to go ahead without a tax, they would be able to avoid paying the capital gains tax. And that is certainly what we would pay. I believe there is a lot there.
That is, it would mean that, if it were to go ahead without an income tax, the average New Zealander would pay $8,000 more in income tax over the next 12 years than he or she did. And as we saw last year, that would be quite a lot, if not more. There are quite a few people who are going to pay the more expensive capital gains tax.
I should add that this is a good way of making sure there is no tax of any kind on the farmers who have been doing well, and who have raised quite a bit over the last four years. The CGT, on the other hand, should be a much more straightforward thing with a much broader framework. The CGT should be an excise tax (although there is no mention of that) but it should be an emissions tax.GPT-2
Now none of that makes any actual sense, but I challenge anyone to deny that stylistically it reads exactly like Mike Hosking, and it’s arguable whether Mike’s columns are any more coherent.
To be fair to Mike, after a while, the AI got tired of waxing lyrical about capital gains tax, and things took a biblical (if totally heretical) turn. I’m not sure why. It’s probably user error.
The origins of this city, known as Harkness, lie in the life of one John the Baptist, the patriarch of Jerusalem (John 4:1). As early as the year 400, he was the oldest living person to be known to the world. With his wife Mary, he served as patriarch of Jerusalem. Shortly after his death, he became a member of the council of the Twelve Apostles (James 1:32; 2:9-11; 1 Corinthians 12:16; 2 Corinthians 6:7; 1 John 3:21; 1 John 3:14; 2 Corinthians 5:25). John was ordained a priest in a small order in Jerusalem. When John came to visit them, he found that, under the guidance of his apostles, the people had been deprived of their true religion. They were called to be witnesses to the church of God, with the belief of the Christian god, and the truth was known to them, as was believed throughout the world. The Lord brought about a change in Jerusalem and the people, but not before the people had heard the gospel, had been baptized, received the Holy Spirit, and had received the Holy Spirit of God. In the fourth year after the first revelation, Jesus Christ was born, and with him was his mother Mary, daughter of the Virgin Mary.The Gospel of Wat, GPT-2
Time for a new one, then. Here’s a prompt from a real, recent Hosking column that I used:
One of the things I appreciate most about broadcasting is I have been lucky enough to work in basically all aspects of it: radio, TV, print, commercial, non-commercial, government-owned, and private enterprise. And the lesson is – nothing beats private enterprise. Private enterprise largely allows you to operate on your merits.
Which is why I feel so sorry for the schools right now who have had to form this coalition to fight the Government on the pending changes, the Tomorrow’s Schools reforms. What must it be like to be sailing smoothly, to be respected, liked, and supported by your community only to have the likes of Chris Hipkins come along with exactly no experience in a classroom (other than spending most of his life at school before he joined the Labour Party) and telling you based on nothing more than a bit of ideology he dreamed up on a whiteboard that what you’re doing needs tipping on its head?Mike Hosking
And here’s GPT-2, very lightly edited for place-names when the AI decided Mike was warbling about Ireland. This one is way better than the CGT one. It’s an almost perfect facsimile of Hosking.
Or do you get angry and push back, not because you’re wrong but because you’re wronged?
I’m sure some people are going to disagree with about this point, especially since the Government is taking the side of the teachers and the parents who are most directly affected by the change. But I would point out that the majority of the people you speak to at schools have been involved in teaching since the day they were born, and it’s only a matter of time before all kinds of things will start to become mainstream again. As a former teacher, I can clearly tell you that I am, personally, very happy for any and all of the schools across New Zealand that have taken a stand on the matter. I have a lot to be thankful for, including my own school, Kings College. I’ve been the first person to speak to this issue with a school minister and as a result the policy has been pretty good.
All of which is welcome; I’m not sure there is any room for debate over the issue to this day. But I’m sure that if you were to come across any other school with a school to fight for, and you found out that they were fighting to protect teachers, you couldn’t help but feel very concerned.
We live in a country where people with a bad attitude have been able to walk into any kind of school and get attacked, and they won’t get kicked out any more. But the Government is taking the side of teachers, and the teachers aren’t going to be happy with it either. All of which is fine; the majority of the people I spoke to had some good things to say about it. We certainly don’t want to hear the side of teachers against the Government for having that “bigoted, anti-Kiwi policy”.
A lot of people, I think, are very happy with the Government’s position, and I think it is probably because they’ve got some of the best in the country out there that they’re able to offer it to them. We’re not really on the side of the whole thing.
I also think it’s interesting that some of the people I spoke to who are very happy with the way they’re doing things, especially in this context, are those who are in the middle of a struggle against the Government.
And so on. And so on. And so onGPT-2
That’s it, everyone. We don’t actually need Mike Hosking any more, if we ever did. Poorly-informed dolt-right opinion blather can now be effortlessly and cheaply outsourced to AI, and all it will need to pass muster is a light edit. In fact, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if that had already happened and no-one had noticed.
But while we’re at it, and just to prove the point, let’s see what it can do with with Heather du Plessis-Allan. But just for fun, I’m not going to tell you where she stops and GPT-2 starts. See if you can figure it out without looking at the original.
I know a guy who runs a few bars and cafes in Wellington. They’re popular places. If you’ve been to the capital, you’ll probably have been to one of his establishments. He gets passionate when he talks about trying to do the right thing by his staff. He wants to pay them the living wage.
But he’s finding it hard. The trouble is that bumping up their pay means bumping up the price of his flat whites and vodka sodas. It might not be by much. It might only be 20 cents a drink. But he reckons that’s enough to send a customer down the road.
One of his staff told him: “Give me a cab and I’ll pay you 20 cents.” In the end, the staff are the ones making up for the shortfall in pay. That’s why they’re so worried about the minimum wage being raised to $10 an hour. But it’s also why they’re fighting to get the minimum wage up. It doesn’t matter how often they go to these places — sometimes they run out of space. But the minimum wage is still going up. It hasn’t hit its target.
It shouldn’t be $10. The difference between $8, $7 and $6. It’s just a change. So the minimum wage is also about changing the price on your own. It has to be about people being willing to pay higher prices for things they’re not willing to sell.
“In the end, it’s a change at this point in time. I think that’s the best thing that could happen. I think it’s the right thing. I think we’re going to do what we can to make this happen.”
If we all agree that we should all get this thing up and running, we can all go out and buy that thing. But then we shouldn’t be taking up space. We can only buy it when we’re willing to pay for it. We can’t just go to the bars and make some money but we shouldn’t be taking up space. We shouldn’t be driving. We can only sit there and enjoy ourselves. We should be able to sit on the sofa, drink our wine, and sit back and do our jobs. We should be able to move around the house and be able to have fun. So we can all continue this conversation.
There is no way in hell that we can’t get this thing up and running. I think it’s time that we have that conversation about how we get the minimum wage up. I think we need to start moving forward. There’s no way we can make this happen without the minimum wage.HDPA, GPT-2
It’s time that we had that conversation.
I tried the AI on HDPA’s husband, Barry Soper, who – if you don’t know him – is a bit like if Santa Claus was slightly evil, had worked for the Press Gallery since the time of Michael Joseph Savage, and had no inside voice. But even after several tries, it never really worked. Every time I tried it on Soper the text quickly devolved into something like a Trump speech. I’m not sure if this is Soper’s fault or the AI’s. Here’s a sample. You can guess what’s Soper and what isn’t.
Never has that old, wise African saying been more poignant: When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.
Trampled New Zealand may be, but there’s still plenty of spring left in the pasture as China and the United States go tit for tat in their arm wrestle over who’s doing the best on trade.
In his first big economic speech of the year, at least Finance Minister Grant Robertson acknowledged there is an issue for this country at the moment. Like all good relationships, he said, there will be issues arising from time to time that have to be dealt with and we can’t shy away from those.
Exporters were encountering issues around softening demand and there were regulatory issues with China, which is shorthand for trouble at the border. And the elephant trumpet in the room full of suits of course couldn’t be ignored.
In the past, the government has also used it as a political weapon against Chinese business. It was used to target a government official who was trying to get a deal in a big deal deal. And it didn’t last. But this is the time I’m going to take a look at this. And this time, it’s a deal that I have long admired, and I’ve been paying tribute to the fact that if there’s anything that is more important to us as a country than good governance, that is the elephant trumpeting.GPT-2
Last one! Here is Leighton Smith, and it’s by far the best one yet. There’s almost no discernible difference between his stuff and GPT-2’s. See if you can see where the AI starts. It’s not easy at all. I had to check twice.
An email to me this last week included a historical quote. So unsure was I as to its alleged source, I did a word search. Confirmation came readily from a number of sites including the BBC.
The quote was “when an opponent declares, I will not come over to your side, I calmly say, Your child belongs to us already. You will pass on. Your descendants however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community”.
In short, you are irrelevant, we own your kids.
Who was the author and does it really matter? What concerns more is what propaganda was adrift? But even more important is how did it eventuate that someone could control the lives and families of so many?.
A bit vague, but a bit clear.
The point of this quote is to illustrate the point of my piece – that we live in a world where there are no rights, no responsibilities and no respect. That we can’t expect to be respected. I can only see the world as it is. I feel like if I had written that post a week ago, I would have written it with more emphasis.
In some ways we’re a little bit naive. We don’t know what to make of it. In some ways we’re a little bit selfish. In some ways we don’t care any more about the lives and families of our fellow humans than we do about those of our people. If you have any ideas on how to improve your life, I encourage you to take a look at my article on this subject.
I have not found anything to suggest that any of you will be able to live in a better world. What I am trying to say is that there are people who are willing – but not always willing to listen.
And I think that this is the point of this blog post. The real world is a better place than you think. But maybe I can make better use of what I have said. I think that I have some advice on how to live a better life. I think it’s good to look up some of those ideas and start creating your own. I want you to think about what I’ve said here. Your life is a living experience. If you are a good person, you will find that you will live better and better.Leighton Smith, GPT-2
The point of all this
So obviously I’ve picked a bunch of the Herald’s hot-take stable for my bot-take, but there’s a couple of bigger points here. The first is that the closer your writing is to gibberish the more it will resemble the AI’s output. That’s why Leighton’s sample is so uncanny, but it really does show up how close all of these writers are to producing total tosh. (I’ll give an pass to Soper just because the AI seemed totally incapable of parsing his stuff without going into long weird monologues, but again, that may be a feature, not a bug.) They’re just harrumphing and hot air and easy outrage. There’s so little of value in them that the AI mimicry is close to seamless. I’ve tried it on other writers that I find more thoughtful, but the output is not nearly as good. Which is a good thing. For now.
The second point is that all of this was done with the severely redacted version of the full-fledged GPT-2 bot, which is capable of far better pastiches than the ones shown here. And this tech is in its infancy. There will come a time, very soon, when AI is capable of not just goofy uncanny-valley pastiche but full-fledged hot takes, with actual facts and meaning. I don’t know what that means, yet. Apart from that we’re not very far at all from AI being a much better writer than Mike Hosking & friends.
More weird AI writing stuff
Kind of gruesome footnote: GPT-2 is also capable of absolutely stupendous levels of weirdness if you give it shorter prompts.
Here’s what happened when I gave it “Roses are red, violets are blue.”
Roses are red, violets are blue, and blood is green.
When a dog is injured, blood is often taken from the wound itself. There are three main ways a dog’s blood is kept:
- Storing blood in the blood carrier
- Storing blood in a bag that is attached to your body
- Storing blood in a container
In this way, if the dog has been injured, he is forced to ingest blood. In a “chicken cage,” there is nothing to hold blood in, and just a few drops of blood.
When the dog is “chicken-caged,” there is no place for it to be. “In a chicken cage,” the dog is “chicken-caged,” and can’t be seen in the cage. If he eats anything that is cooked in a different way, he will be “chicken-caged,” but that doesn’t mean the dog is not welcome. If he bites a rabbit, then he can be left to starve for several days. If you wish to keep your dog in the cage, you must leave the blood to the veterinarian.
How long will the blood be in the bag? It takes about 6 weeks for a dog to be “chicken-caged” again. In most states, once you start to get the dog’s blood back, you will be able to keep the dog in. If you are able to keep the blood in your bag and keep it in an empty space, you will have your dog fully-chickened.
Why should I keep my dog in a “chicken cage?” In a chicken cage, your dog has to be kept in the cage. When the bone is broken, it leaves a mess. If you keep your dog in a cage, your dog can’t eat anything. It will be eaten by the animal and, if it does anything, it will be eaten by the dog. Keep your dog in a box. If you think your dog would be “chicken-caged,” then you should allow it to be kept in a box. You should also place the dog’s blood in a bag, or close the bag. If you have a dog that is in a chicken cage, he or she should be kept in it. The chicken cage should not have food on it.
How long will the blood stop leaving the dog’s body?
Y I K E S.
At some stage, I’ll put together a tutorial on how to do all this stuff, because if I can do it, pretty much anyone can. More people being familiar with this will hopefully be a good thing.