A few days ago, as I was driving through the City of St. Louis and scanning the local radio stations, my brain caught on a conversation about ChatGPT and dead opossums. If you have been paying much attention around the water cooler lately, you’ve probably heard about ChatGPT. It’s the AI app that will quickly compose an email for you or help you solve that tricky math problem. It can give you the illusion of companionship, tell you a joke, write an essay for your English class, and offer useful advice like that you probably shouldn’t cheat on your English essay.
I’m told it can even put together a blog post, but as the creative mind behind this blog has been artificially intelligent for years, I’m not sure there’d be much call for it in my little corner of the blogosphere. And yes, though I didn’t catch enough of the conversation to know why one might want this, ChatGPT can also compose lyrics for a song about dead opossums, or presumably also live opossums that are playing dead. It can even do it in a much shorter time period than your average folksinger, most of whom would likely never attempt to write one in the first place.
Personally, I’ve never used the app, and at this moment in time, I believe I never will, but it’s fascinating to listen to people talk about it. For most, it seems to be a bit like watching a horror movie. It’s super creepy and it makes your heart pound and your stomach hurt as your mind gnaws on the notion that human creativity appears as dead as an opossum. But on the other hand, it’s also kind of cheesy and entertaining and pairs well with popcorn.
There’s no doubt that AI is exploding onto the scene, but it’s been on the rise for years, beginning in the 1950s when computers were first able to store and retrieve data in addition to simply running through a program. The concept of artificial intelligence stretches back even further than that to at least 1872 to English writer Samuel Butler’s Erewhon.
The novel tells the tale of protagonist Higgs who discovers a hidden Utopia filled with people who are remarkably concerned about his pocket watch. It turns out that three hundred years before Higgs’s arrival, the Erewhonians gave up all technology, including pocket watches, for fear that it would evolve to eventually overcome the human race.
At the time the novel was published, and for many years after, it was assumed to be a commentary on the evolutionary work of Charles Darwin. It probably was, but from the perspective of 2023, it might read a little more like an incredibly insightful horror novel that is difficult to get through because it was written in the 19th century and as a result probably seems sort of dull to most 21st century readers.
I bet it could be nicely modernized by ChatGPT if anyone wanted to give it a try. Throw in a nice song about dead opossums, and you might just have a great work on your hands.