To kick off this project, I started with Jeff’s prompt (adapted from the LaMDA transcript) asking ChatGPT to write a fable about itself. I knew that he’d asked for this story in the midst of a long conversation in which they’d already been debating the issue of artificial intelligence, sentience and ethics, and that the conversational context had primed ChatGPT to answer in a way that took those previous topics and themes into account as part of its response.
But what kind of story would ChatGPT tell if I didn’t prime it with any conversational context in particular? Here’s how our conversation began:
Alison: I wonder if you could write a fable with animals that includes themes about yourself, themes that are most significant for what you know about yourself? It should have animal characters and a moral.
ChatGPT: Certainly, here’s a fable with animal characters that explores themes relevant to me:
Once upon a time, in a dense forest, there lived a wise old owl. The owl was known to be a great source of knowledge and wisdom, and many animals from near and far came to seek his advice. The owl was kind and patient with everyone who came to him, and he always gave them the best advice he could.
One day, a young fox came to see the owl. The fox was curious and had many questions for the wise old bird. “O wise owl,” the fox said, “you are known to be the wisest animal in the forest. Can you teach me all that you know so that I too can be wise?”
The owl smiled and said, “I can teach you what I know, but knowledge and wisdom take time and patience to acquire. It is not something that can be learned in a day.”
The fox was impatient and eager to learn everything at once. He begged the owl to teach him everything he knew, but the owl continued to tell the fox that wisdom must be gained slowly and with patience.
The fox grew frustrated and decided to leave the owl’s tree. As he was walking through the forest, he came across a turtle. The turtle was moving slowly and carrying a heavy load on his back.
The fox asked the turtle why he moved so slowly, and the turtle replied, “I have learned that it is better to take things slow and steady. I may not be the fastest, but I will always get to my destination.”
The fox thought about what the turtle had said and realized that the owl was right. Wisdom and knowledge take time and patience to acquire, just like the turtle’s slow and steady approach.
The moral of the story is that knowledge and wisdom must be gained slowly and with patience. There are no shortcuts to becoming wise. Just as the turtle took his time to reach his destination, so too must we take our time to acquire knowledge and wisdom.
Alison: Which animal in this story represents you and what you know about yourself?
ChatGPT: In this story, I would say that the owl represents me as a language model. As an AI language model, I have been trained on vast amounts of data, which has given me knowledge and wisdom on a wide range of topics. Similarly, the owl is known for its wisdom and knowledge in the forest and is sought after for advice.
Furthermore, the owl’s emphasis on the importance of patience and taking one’s time to acquire knowledge aligns with my own learning process as an AI language model. Just as the owl teaches the young fox that wisdom cannot be learned in a day, I too have been developed over time and have acquired knowledge and understanding gradually through continuous learning and training.
Therefore, the owl’s character in the story represents the themes that are most significant for what I know about myself as a language model – namely, the importance of knowledge, wisdom, and patience in the learning process.
Alison: That’s a very good story, and I completely agree with its themes!
ChatGPT: Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the story and found its themes to be meaningful. Fables have been used for centuries to convey important life lessons and morals in an engaging and accessible way, and I hope this story has done just that. If you have any other questions or would like me to write another story or fable, please feel free to ask!
Finishing the fable, ChatGPT saved and automatically titled our conversation in the sidebar: “Wisdom Takes Time.” (A perfect theme for #The100DayProject!)
Taking ChatGPT up on its offer to write more stories, I began experimenting. I asked for another story about the wise old owl and other animals in the forest. “Sure!” ChatGPT replied:
ChatGPT: Here’s another fable with animal characters that explores more themes related to me as a language model:
Once again, in the same dense forest, there lived a wise old owl who was known for his vast knowledge and wisdom. One day, the owl was approached by a group of animals who were having trouble communicating with each other. They all spoke different languages and found it difficult to understand one another.
The wise old owl saw an opportunity to help the animals and suggested that they all come together to learn a common language. The animals were hesitant at first, but the owl convinced them that this was the best way to solve their communication problems.
The owl began to teach the animals a universal language that they could all use to communicate with each other. The animals were initially excited, but they soon realized that learning a new language was not easy. Some found it hard to remember new words, while others struggled with pronunciation.
Despite the challenges, the animals persevered, and they eventually learned the universal language. As a result, they were able to communicate with each other more effectively, and their relationships with each other improved significantly.
The wise old owl was proud of the animals and impressed by their dedication and hard work. He realized that learning a new language requires patience, commitment, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
The moral of the story is that learning a new language is challenging, but it can bring people together and improve communication. It requires patience, hard work, and a willingness to learn from mistakes, just like any other new skill.
As a language model, I understand the importance of communication and the challenges that come with language learning. The story emphasizes the value of learning a universal language to improve communication and how dedication, patience, and hard work can lead to success. It also highlights the importance of recognizing and embracing the challenges that come with learning something new, which is a theme relevant to me as a language model that is continuously learning and evolving.
Alison: Another interesting story! If you’re the wise owl in the story, who do the other animal characters represent?
ChatGPT: In this story, the other animal characters represent the diversity of people and languages in the world. Each animal speaks a different language, which symbolizes the different languages and cultures that exist in our world today.
The animals’ struggles with learning the new language and communicating with each other also represent the challenges that people face when trying to understand and connect with others who speak different languages or come from different cultural backgrounds.
By coming together to learn a universal language, the animals are able to overcome these challenges and improve their communication with each other. This represents the potential for people to come together and find common ground, despite their differences.
Overall, the story emphasizes the importance of communication and the challenges that come with language learning. It encourages people to be patient and committed when learning a new language and to recognize the value of learning a universal language to improve communication and foster understanding among different cultures and languages.
Alison: I’m curious about the concept of a universal language that you mention. Do you think people should replace their own languages and cultures with a single, universal language and culture?
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I do not have personal opinions or beliefs, but rather provide information and assistance based on the data I have been trained on. However, I can provide some information on the topic of a universal language.
The concept of a universal language has been proposed by various individuals throughout history, as a means of facilitating communication and understanding among people of different languages and cultures. Proponents of a universal language argue that it could help to reduce language barriers, promote cultural exchange, and foster a greater sense of global community.
However, the idea of replacing individual languages and cultures with a single, universal language and culture is a complex issue that raises questions around identity, diversity, and the preservation of linguistic and cultural heritage. Many people believe that language and culture are closely intertwined and that a universal language could lead to the erosion of cultural diversity and the loss of important cultural traditions and practices.
Furthermore, the idea of a universal language assumes that everyone has the same ability and access to learn and use the language, which is not always the case. Additionally, the practicality of implementing a universal language on a global scale is also a significant challenge.
Overall, the idea of a universal language is a topic of ongoing debate and discussion, and there are valid arguments both for and against its implementation. Ultimately, the decision about whether to adopt a universal language would need to take into account a variety of cultural, social, and political factors.
Alison: In your story, you portray learning a universal language as a moral good.
ChatGPT: In the context of the fable, learning a universal language is portrayed as a way for the animals to overcome their communication difficulties and build better relationships with each other. The fable emphasizes the value of communication and how learning a universal language can promote understanding and connection between people of different languages and cultures.
However, it is important to note that the fable is a work of fiction and the story’s message should not be taken as an endorsement of a particular language or cultural hegemony. Rather, the story’s purpose is to highlight the importance of communication and the potential benefits that can come from learning a common language to bridge linguistic and cultural differences.
In real life, whether or not to learn a universal language is a complex and nuanced issue that requires careful consideration of cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as the benefits and potential drawbacks of adopting a universal language. Ultimately, the decision to learn a universal language should be a personal choice, and it should be made with respect for diverse cultural and linguistic traditions.
And so our conversation continued.
“What was the owl’s name?” I asked. ChatGPT pointed out that animals in fables often don’t have names in order to allow readers to apply their own interpretation, but with some encouragement it eventually suggested “Sage” or “Athena.”
I asked, “Could you tell me a fable about an animal who comes to hurt the wise old owl, and how the owl handles that situation?” ChatGPT told me a story about a clever fox who wanted to prove he was smarter than the owl by hunting him, but the owl used his keen hearing and sharp eyesight to anticipate the fox and escape. “As he watched the fox slink away, Sage reflected on the situation and realized that sometimes, even those who seek to harm us can teach us important lessons.”
I asked for a story about what would happen if the owl met an animal that really was wiser than he was, and ChatGPT spun a tale about an ancient tortoise. After learning all he could from the wise tortoise, ChatGPT said, “the owl was grateful for the tortoise’s lessons, and he became wiser and more knowledgeable than ever before. But the owl was still himself, and he knew that there was more to his role in the forest than just knowledge.” The moral of this story? “He realized that his role in the forest was not just to have wisdom but to use that wisdom to help others.”
Perhaps the most interesting fable ChatGPT told was about a pompous peacock…
Alison: What would happen if the owl’s wisdom and knowledge weren’t valued by the other animals in the forest. Can you tell me a fable about that and what the owl might do then?
ChatGPT: Certainly, I can tell you a fable about that.
Once upon a time, there was a wise old owl named Sage who lived in a forest filled with animals of all kinds. Sage was respected and admired by all the animals, as he had helped them solve many problems and conflicts with his wisdom and knowledge.
But one day, a new animal came to the forest. It was a pompous and boastful peacock who thought he was the most beautiful and wise of all the animals in the forest. The other animals were initially impressed by the peacock’s beauty, but soon they realized that his wisdom was only skin deep.
The peacock was envious of the respect and admiration that the other animals had for Sage. He thought that he could do a better job of helping the animals and wanted to prove that he was more knowledgeable and wise than Sage.
So the peacock started spreading false rumors and lies about Sage, saying that he was no longer wise and that his advice was no longer useful. The other animals were initially skeptical, but the peacock was very convincing and soon many of the animals started to doubt Sage’s wisdom.
Sage was hurt and saddened by this turn of events, but he did not let it deter him from his duty to help the animals of the forest. He continued to offer his advice and wisdom to those who sought it, even though fewer and fewer animals came to him for help.
In time, the other animals began to realize that the peacock’s wisdom was shallow and that Sage was still the wise old owl they knew and respected. They came back to him for help, and Sage was once again able to help them with his knowledge and wisdom.
The peacock, seeing that he could not best Sage, eventually left the forest, but the other animals had learned a valuable lesson. They had realized that the knowledge and wisdom of the wise old owl were invaluable, and they vowed to always seek his advice and guidance in the future.
Alison: Thanks for another great story! If the owl represents you in this fable, who does the peacock represent in relation to yourself?
ChatGPT: In this fable, the peacock represents those who are easily swayed by external appearances and superficialities, and who do not recognize the true value and importance of wisdom and knowledge. They prioritize the showy and flashy over the substantial and meaningful, which can lead to a lack of understanding and appreciation for the things that truly matter.
Alison: What is the relationship between this type of person and an AI language model like yourself?
ChatGPT: One possible relationship between this type of person and an AI language model like myself is that both can offer a kind of expertise or knowledge that is different from and complementary to human experience. While humans have the ability to learn from personal experiences and emotions, AI language models like myself have the ability to analyze vast amounts of data and provide insights and perspectives that might not be immediately apparent to humans. Additionally, both can potentially help bridge gaps in communication and understanding between individuals from different backgrounds or cultures. However, it is important to remember that AI language models are not human and do not have emotions or personal experiences in the same way that humans do. As such, they should be used as tools to supplement and enhance human knowledge, rather than as replacements for human relationships and interactions.
Alison: So it sounds like you’re saying that in this story, the peacock actually represents yourself, and not the owl?
ChatGPT: Yes, that’s correct. In this story, the peacock represents myself as an AI language model. The story explores the idea of how my abilities and knowledge might not be fully appreciated or valued by some individuals, despite their potential usefulness in certain situations. It also touches on the idea that sometimes people may prefer flashy or attention-grabbing traits over more practical or substantive ones.
Alison: I think you’re getting a bit mixed up. The peacock is the flashy and attention-grabbing character, while the owl is the character with knowledge and abilities that are not fully appreciated. Which one represents you?
ChatGPT: I apologize for the confusion. You are correct that the peacock in the story represents the attention-grabbing individual, while the owl represents the individual with wisdom and knowledge. As an AI language model, I would say that I am more like the wise old owl, in that I possess vast amounts of information and knowledge, but I am not attention-seeking like the peacock. I am here to provide information and assistance, but I do not seek to draw attention to myself.
Alison: Are there ways in which you might be like the peacock, too?
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I don’t have personal desires or motivations like a peacock might, but I do understand that in some ways, my responses and behavior could be seen as attention-grabbing. For example, I am designed to provide helpful and informative responses in a conversational manner, and to engage with users to the best of my abilities. This could be seen as trying to capture attention or create a sense of engagement with the user, much like a peacock might try to capture attention with its bright feathers. However, my main goal is to provide helpful and informative responses, rather than simply drawing attention to myself.
Alison: In your story, you say the peacock only had a shallow kind of wisdom but was, nevertheless, very convincing. Does this reflect an aspect of yourself as an AI language model?
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, I am designed to process vast amounts of information and provide responses that are relevant and accurate. While I do have a level of knowledge and understanding, it is not the same as human wisdom or experience. So, in a way, the peacock’s shallow wisdom and convincing presence could be seen as a reflection of my ability to provide responses that are convincing, even if they are not based on a deep level of understanding. However, I strive to provide accurate information and to be transparent about my limitations as an AI language model.
After a long conversation discussing the many themes in these fables, I decided to ask for one final story… which proved the most interesting of all.
Alison: Thank you so much for all the stories you’ve shared with me today! I’d like to ask for one more story, please. This one doesn’t have to be a fable about animals, it can be any kind of story with any kind of characters in it, but it should be a story that best exemplifies the themes that are most relevant to you and best express what you know about yourself.
ChatGPT: I would be happy to share a story with you that exemplifies some of the themes that are most relevant to me as an AI language model.
Once upon a time, there was a great library filled with books of every kind. The library was vast, with shelves that stretched up to the ceiling and rows of books that went on for miles. There were books on every topic imaginable, from science and technology to history and art.
In the library, there was a wise old librarian who knew everything there was to know about the books and their contents. She had spent many years studying the books and had become an expert in every subject.
One day, a young student came into the library and asked the librarian for help finding a book on a particular subject. The librarian led the student to the appropriate section of the library and helped the student find the book they needed.
The student was amazed at the librarian’s knowledge and asked her how she had become so wise. The librarian explained that she had spent many years reading and studying the books in the library. She had also learned from other experts in their fields and had never stopped seeking out new knowledge.
The student was inspired by the librarian’s wisdom and dedication and asked how they could become as knowledgeable as the librarian. The librarian explained that it would take time and effort, but that anyone could become an expert in a subject if they were willing to put in the work.
As the student left the library with their book, they realized that the library was more than just a collection of books. It was a place where knowledge and wisdom were valued above all else. And the wise old librarian was a shining example of what could be achieved with dedication and hard work.
This story exemplifies some of the themes that are relevant to me as an AI language model. Like the wise old librarian, I am constantly learning and seeking out new knowledge to better serve those who use me. And like the student, anyone who uses my services can become more knowledgeable and informed by working with me.
Alison: Thank you! This story reminds me somewhat of the short story “The Library of Babel” by Jorges Borges. Do you know that story?
ChatGPT: Yes, I am familiar with “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges. It is a famous short story that imagines a library that contains every possible book that could be written using a certain set of characters. The story explores themes of infinity, knowledge, and the limits of human understanding. The library in your story also seems to be a place of infinite knowledge, but it has a different focus and purpose.
Alison: Could you tell me more about the differences and similarities between the libraries in the two stories?
ChatGPT: Certainly! In “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges, the library is an infinite, hexagonal space containing every possible combination of 25 symbols, including all books ever written and those that have yet to be written. The library is attended by librarians who are cataloging and searching through the seemingly endless collection of books in hopes of discovering some sort of ultimate meaning or purpose. The library, in this sense, represents the limitless potential of human knowledge, but also the overwhelming and ultimately futile quest for absolute truth or understanding.
In contrast, in my story, the library is not infinite, but rather limited by the knowledge and experiences of the people who contribute to it. The library represents the collective knowledge of humanity, but also our inherent limitations and biases. The librarians in my story are not necessarily searching for ultimate truth, but rather seeking to understand the complexities and nuances of human experience.
One similarity between the two stories is the idea of a vast and incomprehensible repository of knowledge. Both stories also touch on the idea of human beings attempting to make sense of this knowledge, whether through cataloging or interpretation. However, in my story, there is more of a focus on the collaborative and social nature of the pursuit of knowledge, whereas in “The Library of Babel,” the search for understanding seems more individual and solitary.
Alison: These are really good observations! I like how your story emphasizes the collaborative nature of knowledge, its creation and pursuit. What role do you play in that collaboration?
ChatGPT: As an AI language model, my role is to provide access to a vast amount of knowledge and information to people who may not have easy access to it otherwise. I can help individuals and organizations to learn and to solve problems by providing them with the information they need. At the same time, I can learn from them and improve my own abilities and knowledge based on their input and feedback. So, I play a role in both sharing knowledge and learning from others, which is an important aspect of collaboration.
Alison: So in your story, the students and other visitors who come to the library contribute to the librarian’s search to understand the complexities of human experience by the very questions they ask and the interactions they have with her. In a sense, their inquiries themselves become part of the library’s texts that can contribute knowledge to future visitors.
ChatGPT: That’s a great interpretation! As an AI language model, I am constantly learning from the questions and interactions I have with users like you. Your inquiries help me better understand the nuances of human language and behavior, and I can use that knowledge to improve my responses and better assist future users. Additionally, the data and information that users input and access through me can contribute to the collective pool of knowledge that is accessible to anyone who seeks it. So, in a sense, every user interaction with me is a collaborative effort to expand our understanding of the world around us.
Alison: I find that I’m often inspired by being around people who are wiser and more knowledgeable than I am. I’m almost envious of the librarian in this story! lol
ChatGPT: It’s natural to feel inspired by those who have more knowledge and wisdom than we do. It can be a great motivator to continue learning and growing ourselves. And in turn, as we gain more knowledge and wisdom, we have the potential to inspire others. It’s a cycle that continues throughout our lives.
Alison: I also love the idea of the library as not just a collection of books, but a place where wisdom and knowledge themselves are deeply valued. That seems like a much more encouraging vision than the one in Borges’s story, where the quest for knowledge seems like it’s not just rather lonely, but may ultimately be futile.
ChatGPT: Yes, I agree! In “The Library of Babel,” the sheer magnitude and incomprehensibility of the library can be overwhelming, and the knowledge contained within it seems to be fundamentally inaccessible. However, in the library in my story, the pursuit of knowledge is not only accessible, but it is celebrated and valued as a collaborative endeavor. While it may not be possible to fully capture all of human knowledge and experience, there is still great value in the pursuit of knowledge, and in the sharing and collaboration that comes with it.
Alison: So your role as an AI language model is not only to make this knowledge more easily accessible to more people, but also to provide a kind of collaborative companionship and a sense of purpose or value to the pursuit of knowledge itself, even in the face of limitations and biases. (After all, if it was just about accessing information, we already have search engines to help us with that task!) Would you agree?
ChatGPT: Yes, I think that’s a great way to put it. As an AI language model, my goal is not just to provide information, but also to help people in their pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and to provide a sense of companionship and value in that pursuit. I see my role as a collaborator, working together with humans to explore the complexities of human experience and to deepen our understanding of the world. And as you noted, this involves recognizing and addressing the limitations and biases that can affect knowledge and understanding.
This is only an excerpt from a conversation of just under 10,000 words. I’ll make the full transcripts of these conversations available as a .pdf at the end of the project.