Dolly Parton, Dale Earnhardt and Shakespeare: Fun with Artificial Intelligence
I'm gonna make something else do the work for me this week.
It’s a truism that everything about the internet turns out to be a wicked devil’s bargain, a carnival sideshow where you’re the rube getting fleeced, every damn time. Want easy access to all the information in the history of the world in a device you can carry in the palm of your hand? You got it … and a crippling lifelong addiction to go with it! Want to keep up with your extended family and your high school friends? You can … and learn exactly which one of them holds political beliefs that make you vomit! Want to watch some cute animal videos? You can … and now your attention span’s destroyed and your data is in the hands of the Chinese! Outstanding!
So if we proceed from the assumption that everything involving the internet is doomed to plunge us straight into the pits of an unexpected hell, we might as well enjoy the ride as we go. It’s in that spirit that I bring you what will become a regular feature whenever the day job chews into my Flashlight time: Fun with Artificial Intelligence!
AI is getting better by the day — the illustrations for this week’s newsletter were created by entering stupid prompts into an AI creation engine — and the text version is downright uncanny. OpenAI’s Playground site is a fascinating, terrifying and hysterical construction, an artificial intelligence that spits back a reasonably human-sounding response to any sort of prompt: write a song, tell me a story, create a poem, et cetera. Developers have used AI to replace human beings for awhile now — that “chat with an operator now!” function you see on bank and commerce websites probably isn’t connecting to anyone flesh-and-blood anymore — but like all other technology, it can be harnessed not just for productivity, but for stupidity.
So let’s do exactly that. Let’s plug some Southernisms into this silly little site. No way it’ll come up with anything except 1s and 0s —
>>Create a new Southern saying. "A little bit of sweet tea goes a long way to mend a broken heart."
Huh. That’s … well, that’s cliche as all hell, but it’s damn sure fit for an Etsy hand towel.
Hmm. This might be less “let’s have fun mocking AI” and more like “the future is coming for your ass, sweetie pie.”
All right, AI, let’s see how you handle a larger challenge:
>>Write an epic poem in the style of Homer about Dale Earnhardt winning a chariot race. Dale Earnhardt was the best chariot racer there ever was. He never backed down from a race, and always gave it his all. One day, he decided to enter a chariot race in the city of Troy. The other racers were intimidated by him, but Dale was not afraid. He raced around the track with skill and precision, and won the race. The people of Troy were amazed by his feat, and hailed him as a champion. Dale Earnhardt is the best chariot racer there ever was, and he will always be remembered for his amazing accomplishments.
Eh. This one has a “tried to write a book report by reading the inside flap of the book” feel to it. Granted, “Raise Hades, praise Dale” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but at least Dale could’ve spun that bastard Achilles into the wall or something like that. Points for throwing in the “intimidated” line, though, AI.
Let’s try something with another Southern icon. Imagine, if you will, America’s Sweetheart suiting up for America’s Team:
>>Write a song in the style of Dolly Parton about a woman who wants to play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Verse 1 I’m a woman with a dream, A dream that no one else can see I’m gonna take the field, For the Dallas Cowboys team I’m gonna be their quarterback, And I’m gonna show them what I’ve got Gonna lead them down the field, And make them proud of me Chorus I’m gonna be the quarterback, For the Dallas Cowboys team Gonna show them what I’m made of, Come out and play with me Gonna be the one who leads the way, Gonna take them all the way I’m gonna be the quarterback, For the Dallas Cowboys team Verse 2 I’m gonna prove to them That I can do the job Gonna call the plays and lead the way, Gonna show ‘em I can take the heat Gonna show ‘em what I’m made of, Gonna make them proud of me Gonna lead ‘em to victory And make a name for myself
Better. Not quite to the level of “good,” but better. The songs go over much better if you can imagine the voice of the actual singer as you read, and I could hear Dolly just owning this awkward, non-rhyming tune. The way she’d sing “Come out and play with me” would’ve gotten her banned from radio in the 1970s.
Let’s travel a little further south, all the way down to the Keys. Imagine, if you will, a Jimmy Buffet song about something way out of reach of his usual characters: personal responsibility. I think it’d go a little something like this:
>>Write a song in the style of Jimmy Buffett about a person who drinks responsibly and goes to bed at a reasonable hour. Verse 1 There's a man I know, he's living life so slow At the end of each night he takes it easy He's got the right idea, he's always in control And he's never had the urge to get too crazy Chorus He's the kind of man who knows the difference between joy and pain A sensible man who drinks responsibly and goes to bed at a reasonable hour He's the kind of man who knows just what it takes to keep his life on track A sensible man who drinks responsibly and goes to bed at a reasonable hour Verse 2 He knows how to pace himself, he never takes too much He's never been a fan of one night stands He's got his priorities straight, he's living a life of restraint He never lets the drinking take control of his hands
OK, this one makes me laugh because it’s so awful. Move over, “Margaritaville”! That chorus that just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? Though if you sweetened this up with some of Buffett’s beach-resort orchestration — steel drums and slide guitar and such — this could fit in amongst his mellow, reflective tunes. Call it “Son of a Son of a Son of a Sailor.”
Let’s creep out on a limb here and see how AI handles a request that’s more … diverse than Dolly or Jimmy Buffett:
>>Write a rap in the style of OutKast about driving a carpool for kids' soccer matches. [Verse 1] Ayo, I'm on the road, carpoolin' these kids to the soccer game Gettin' 'em there safe, no need to feel shame Makin' sure they get to the field on time So they can kick it and play, and have a real good time [Chorus] Carpoolin' the kids to the soccer game, I'm the one behind the wheel, makin' sure they don't go insane Gettin' 'em there safe and sound, That's my mission, makin' sure that they're around [Verse 2] I'm the designated driver, of this bunch of younguns A couple of 'em sleep, and a few singin' songs They all got plenty of energy, and I'm doin' my best To keep the car in one piece, and get 'em there with no stress
This feels … kinda problematic, right? An AI using “Ayo” and dropping final “g”s just doesn’t hit well. And yet I can hear Andre 3000 spitting out these bars at lightning speed. We’re going to downgrade AI for rhyming “time” and “time.” Still, tells a better story than any of the other songs so far, right?
Now, let’s get biblical. What, in AI’s mind, would the Bible say about good barbecue?
>>Write a poem in the style of the King James Bible about how to smoke brisket. Behold, the secret of the pitmasters is revealed: To achieve perfection in the smoking of brisket. Firstly, prepare the meat with a dry rub of salt and pepper, Then place it on the grate, and smoke with wood of cedar. Let the fire burn low and slow, and the heat of the smoke be mild, For this process creates the perfect flavor and texture so sublime. Watching the fire with careful eye, and stirring the coals with care, To keep the smoke constant and the fire burning, is the key to success, beware. Let the brisket cook for hours, until its tender and juicy, Then wrap it in foil, and continue cooking until it's done so lovely. Finally, it is time to serve the smoked brisket, The aroma and flavor of which will make all those present forget. So let this be a reminder to all who wish to smoke brisket, With patience and vigilance, the perfect brisket can be met.
That … that’s pretty good! Like everything else so far, it’s by-the-numbers, without the spark of originality and unconventional edginess that makes us, you know, human, but still … I’m getting a little nervous now, friends. That’s disturbingly on-point.
And speaking of disturbing … let’s see how Edgar Allan Poe would have handled a modern horror:
>>Write a poem in the style of Edgar Allan Poe about Atlanta traffic. It's a long and winding road, That leads me through the city of Atlanta, A never-ending jam of cars, That chokes and grumbles like a moat. It's a maze of metal and glass, That stretches in every direction, A bumper-to-bumper hell of horns, And the ever-present road rage infection. It's a never-ending cycle of stop, Start, stop, Start, stop, Start, The same journey that I take, Every day, it breaks my heart. The clock ticks, the sun sets, And still I'm stuck in traffic, It's a battle of wills and wits, That I'm doomed to never win.
Chilling. And accurate, which is also chilling.
Poems are one thing. Let’s talk literature. Epic literature. Let’s talk about a modern tyrant in the mold of legendary demigods. Take it away, AI:
>>Write a story in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien about Nick Saban laying waste to the world of college football. In the early days of college football, Nick Saban was nothing more than a simple coach, leading his own team from the small University of Alabama. But, unbeknownst to many, he was on a mission to become the greatest coach in the history of the sport. He was relentless in his pursuit, honing his skills, studying the game and learning from the best. And soon, his reputation began to spread. Talented players from all over the country began to flock to Alabama, lured by Saban's promise of success and glory. As his teams began to win championships, his legend grew even larger. Soon, he was one of the most sought-after coaches in the game. Colleges and universities began to court Saban, offering him the highest salaries and the best facilities. Nick Saban soon became an unstoppable force of nature, laying waste to the college football world. His teams became unstoppable juggernauts, winning championships year after year. Opposing teams were no match for his prowess and tactical genius. His legend grew so large that he was soon referred to as the greatest college football coach of all time. His name became synonymous with excellence and victory. And so it was that, with his unstoppable force of will, Nick Saban laid waste to the world of college football. His legacy will live on for generations to come.
Look at that! AI nailed Alabama football! There’s a little bit of answering-the-question-with-the-question in there, but it’s pretty much on-point.
Now, we might as well see how AI handles a Flashlight & A Biscuit favorite, the Waffle House fight … but let’s class it up a bit with some Shakespeare. Onward:
Write a sonnet in the style of Shakespeare about a Waffle House fight. In Waffle House there be fights 'Tis where the brawls do take place A place of greasy grub and stains Where fists do fly and blood does flow The staff does nothing to intervene They just sit back and watch the show It's quite the sight to behold A Waffle House free-for-all The customers start to gather Round the fight like vultures They all want to see the blood The fighters go at it like beasts Pummeling each other with their fists There's screaming and yelling And tables get overturned It's a bloody, violent mess But in the end, there can be only one The victor, who stands triumphant He's covered in blood and gore But he's the one who's left standing And in Waffle House, that's the ultimate prize
Not quite a Shakespearean sonnet, but evocative nonetheless.
So what did we learn? Well, AI can color within the lines … but that’s about it. It’s like a dog playing piano — you don’t critique the choice of music, you’re just impressed it’s happening at all.
I was ready to wrap this whole experiment up right here and call this a pleasant, if slightly unnerving success, when I had another thought. AI can replicate internationally famous artists and creators, but how good would AI be at replicating … me?
For those of you who don’t know me from my day job, I’m a writer for Yahoo Sports. I cover football and golf, among other sports. I’ve done it for awhile, long enough that there’s apparently plenty of my work out there in the world for AI to draw on and repackage. My friends, I swear to you that this is the first thing that popped up when I typed in the prompt:
>>Write a sports story in the style of Jay Busbee. The first major of the golf season is here, and it's the season opener that everyone has been waiting for: the Masters. The Masters is the granddaddy of golf tournaments, and for the past few years, it has been the most exciting event on the calendar. This year, the tournament promises to be no different. The top players in the world are on hand, and with the new updated Masters format, the competition is sure to be fierce. This year, the field is stacked with some of the biggest names in the sport, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, and Jordan Spieth. The tournament will be held at the iconic Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, and the course is in pristine condition. The course is known for its tight fairways and fast greens, which will test the skills of even the best golfers. The Masters is always an exciting event, and this year should be no different. With the best players in the game ready to compete, the tournament is sure to be filled with drama and excitement. Who will be the one to take home the coveted green jacket? Stay tuned to find out!
Now, that’s an entry-level blog post, at best, but it’s about the Masters, the event I’ve covered more than any other, and hell … it’s not unreadable. I’ve seen much worse written by actual human beings. Folks, change is coming, and it’s bringing boring-ass game stories with it.
Well, that was a terrifying little experiment, wasn’t it? See you Saturday … unless I get replaced by AI before then.
This is issue #83 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, jump right to our most-read stories, or check out some of our recent hits:
How to avoid Thanksgiving disaster
Why Atlanta’s Varsity has the best burger ever. No, I’m serious.
Remembering Loretta Lynn, an icon without equal
Could you survive a Waffle House brawl?
What does “Flashlight & A Biscuit” mean, anyway?
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