Is GPT-3 AI the End of Literature?
1. Emergent Ripple
I’ve been busy writing Sylvia Plath poems.
Technically I do not write them, I generate them. Using Plath’s Ariel as a base text I prompt the AI and the AI, a GPT-3 language model named Rainbow (essentially the internet’s articulated unconscious), generates one or more simulated “Plath” poems in a matter of seconds. Most of the content generated is bad, like a repetitive HAL 9000 in its death agony—the program is in beta—but every once and a while a poem arrives that is, for lack of a better word, hair raising.
Here is an example from a poem called Sea Chasm
The mackerel-crowded sea
Splits again, disclosing first one dark fin, then another.
Trace them backward, they will appear to be generated
By an emergent ripple, the first fold in a cloth
Hung on night’s clothesline.
A machine wrote this. Here is another, from Jellyfish
A knife-edge of questions. Beloved,
I have no answers.
The child of the poem stood at the nursery window.
Beyond her an empty beach
Littered with whales.
Night, a knife, the sea, a child; all common elements of the Plath poem, though I am not sure where all the marine life comes from. There is also an apocalyptic element to many of the poems that is not necessarily found in the original. Spirit of the times?
That summer, the sky split open.
You, a slice of lemon on a hot rock,
Your arms a band of brass.
The locust flung the sky back, the sky fell
Huge and burning.
The poems are hair raising because they conjure what by all accounts seems to be a human subject on the other end of the line. They have the ability to achieve what all confessional poems implicitly attempt to achieve: the transmission of feeling from one subject to another. And yet there is no subject there; the subject died in 1963. These poems have instead been forged and automated deep in the far reaches of the uncanny valley; the familiar has been split in half by the emergent ripple of a vertiginous unfamiliarity. It is an unfamiliarity that, like a radioactive isotope, makes all other poems unstable.
Another way to say this: If language could be described as an ocean, we might conclude that, just as global warming is causing instability in the seasonal movement of ocean currents, GPT-3 will cause a similar increase in force and entropy in the psychic currents of our shared language as it is deployed on the internet. This is already happening with the algorithms that drive social media. GPT-3 will only increase this volatility of meaning exponentially.
As Samual L. Jackson says: “hold on to your butts.”
2. Every Season is Firestorm Hurricane Season
Some proponents of GPT-3 are calling it “photoshop for writers.” Its utopian dream is to remove the writing from writing. Why write at all when with a few prompts the machine can do it better and much faster? This is going to be sold, and bought, as an aid in productivity: never write an email again!
That’s all well and good for those writers who hate writing, but what are some of the more dystopian implications of this strange technology?
“Photoshop” is perhaps too tame an analogy. GPT-3’s general ability is to assimilate cultural patterns and reproduce them. It can create everything from music, to podcasts, to any image whatsoever. Anything that a human can make on the internet, GPT-3 can generate also, not to mention non-existent human faces.
This will only become more gather more force with each subsequent upgrade: GPT-4, GPT-5, GPT-X etc.
Here are a few speculative outcomes:
a). The Library of Babbling
Amazon already makes millions from counterfeits whether they be Birkenstocks or Neutrogena. With the powers of Kindle Direct Publishing there is no reason that one could not use GPT-X to produce serviceable Hemingway short stories and sell them as the “Lost Collection.” With the tech that is currently available one person could do this in a weekend. A team of persons could do it in an afternoon. We can only assume that this kind of trick is already happening. Likewise it would not take very much work to release Pynchon’s latest novel. Or a new memoir by Joan Didion. We can only assume that many readers would not be able to tell the difference.
The speed with which serviceable content can be produced is the newfound force at work here. Whereas before, a Nora Roberts novel was produced every 4 months, they can now be produced every 4 hours.
Further iterations of GPT-X will be able to create movies of any variety, starring any actor ever and capital will turn this into into thousands of unending streams of the Marvel/Star Wars Cinematic Universe from now until perpetuity.
In a dystopia in which GPT-X writes perfect Sylvia Plath poems, the real Sylvia Plath phases in and out with the synthetic Plath until only those who have memorized Plath--as in Fahrenheit 451-will be able to tell the real apart from the simulated. An era is quickly approaching in which the glut of AI generated content will drown out “real content” in tidal waves of pure verisimilitude.
This is the real-life version of Nick Bostrum’s robot apocalypse in which the super-intelligent AI is tasked with reproducing paper clips and becomes so good at it as to destroy humanity and raze the surface of the earth in the process of turning the entire biosphere into a sea of paperclips. In the GPT-X scenario the super abundant product will be human culture itself.
Lyotard's Postmodern Condition cannot hold a candle to the approaching firestorm of hyper-inflationary maximalist machine narratives of GPT-X.
In this way the internet is on the verge of becoming a hyper-activated Library of Babel propelled by techno-capital into a frenzied sea of “text” where the hyper-inflation of meaning is the imploding force ignited by market forces. As Don Delillo likes to remind us, Capital tends to burn off the nuance in a culture. In this impending dystopia, techno-capital will not only burn off all nuance but will also firebomb any sense whatsoever, creating a kind of manic, hyper-mantra-ad-space where the internet says everything that has ever been said over and over again, all the time, until all meaningful significance is reduced to ash.
b). Internet Hellscape At Scale
Human biases are coded into GPT-X. When prompted they come out in all of their horrible grotesquery. When prompted again they metastasize into a nightmare.
Just as Macedonian teenagers produce much of the Facebook clickbait that drive evangelical Americans into fits of anti-social rage, GPT-X will be able to accelerate these divisions at scale. If the amount of negative content driven by algorithms has heretofore been a tropical storm, with the advent of machine-content it will achieve class five hurricane status. This is our own Trump era dystopia aggravated into who-knows-what extremes by unthinking machines that feedback into the system even more aggravation and violence that then feeds back into the machine once more ad infinitum.
The hard problem here is that extreme wealth generates its own obscene cosmology; the feedback loop of violence pays. And it pays enough to make it easy to ignore all the violence. The mobilization of techno-capital is well nigh impossible to stop without an “act of god.” Billionaires cannot be reasoned with; they can afford not to be.
With the dawning era of GPT-X the powers that be no longer have to pay Macedonia teens, but rather can just let the heuristic program do all work. Mark Zuckerberg becomes ever more wealthy in the crypto-metaverse while the world becomes ever more lethal, exponentially.
The only solution to this is to turn off the internet.
But hey! The internet, by definition, cannot be turned off.
c). The End of Literature as we know it
Here a few questions to ponder:
-If GPT-X can write, say, an Elena Farrante novel better and faster than Elena Ferrante can, what will Elena Ferrante do for a living?
-What does it mean that GPT-X will be able to reproduce new versions of all of Proust ten times over in under an hour and most readers will not be able to tell the difference between real and simulated?
-If we think of Qanon as the algorithm already performing a kind of bat-shit philosophy, what horrors await with the advent of the heretofore unimaginable machine-philosophy of GPT-X?
Here is a machine written Synthetic Plath poem that I think, weirdly enough, emits a ray of hope.
In a decayed Hollywood, a hysterical starlet
Polishes her nails, and the last lion looks up from a fetid
The water is warm. The trains don't run.
The palm trees rot,
And the movie houses burn down, one by one.
The orchids are delivered to the old waxworks, dead as he is.
Mingling their stems
In the tree-bark, they bask in the drip-drip-drips from the wax saints.
Marilyn Monroe, croak-voiced, croons the last rites over the embalmed
Ends of time.
A hare lopes across a California lawn.
In a dream, a hare.
Heart of our heart, you are all that is left us!