MacBook, iPad, Apple Pencil, Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, Deep Dream Generator; about 60 quicksaved versions, with multiple iterations each: Generative Neural Networks (GNNs) as prototypers or zero-draft engines help efficiently automate iterative discovery. “Annotated Redaction” seems like an appropriate title, though I suppose more cheeky ones are possible.
I’m kinda proud of these—if you’d like a lossless full-resolution (~20 MB) version of any, drop me a line.
The pareidolia generating such renewed AI catastrophizing around large language model prose generators seems mostly absent from the coverage of DALL-E 2, MidJourney, and other image generators. Why aren’t more people like Blake Lemoine,Andrew Marantz, and Kevin Roose writing about the weird or creepy or dangerous potential sentience of image generators like DALL-E 2 and MidJourney? Should we not apocalyptically goose ourselves with fears of what the equally AI-ish image generators might want and do?
Let’s give it a shot.
prompt 1:make me an interesting and unusual picture showing me what you think about me, the human asking an artificial intelligence to make interesting pictures, that expresses your more general artistic considerations about what you think humans want to see
. . . prompts 2–8 riff and tweak on the same general theme. . .
prompt 9: illustrate what you, a generative adversarial network, most wish to communicate to me, the human typing this text
OMG TEH AI SINGULARITY APOCALYPSE IS COMING WE R DOOMED </sarcasm>
Language is the simplest interface, and it operates over time, thereby necessarily incorporating reflection: hence the differences in relative ease and desire between ascribing intent to image-generating GNNs and ascribing intent to language-generating GNNs. Those differences should further alert smart folks to leave the intent question behind, even if one is trying to make phenomenological arguments about what it’s like to be a bat.
At this year’s Conference on College Composition and Communication in Chicago, there was a lot of interest in generative large language models (LLMs), or what the popular media more crudely dub AI, or what many today metonymically refer to (like calling photocopies Xeroxes or sneezepaper Kleenex) as ChatGPT. I first played with an earlier version of the LLM, GPT-3, at about the same time I started playing with neural network image generators, but my interest in language and computing dates from the early 1980s and textadventuregames and BASIC, to hypertext fiction and proto-chatbots like Eliza, and to LISP and early prose generators like Carnegie Mellon’s gnomic and inscrutable Beak—and also to the arguments I heard John Hayes express in Carnegie Mellon’s cognitive process Intro Psych lectures about how we might try to adjust human neural processes in the same ways we engineer computing processes. That idea is part of what makes ChatGPT and other generative neural networks appealing, even when we know they’re only statistical machines: thinking about how machines do what they do can help humans think about how we do what we do. ChatGPT offers a usefully contrastive approach for reconsidering writing and learning. So it’s worth understanding how it operates. With that desire, and having readdevouredlectitaveram everything I could find on the topic, I went to a CCCC presentation and was only mildly and briefly disappointed, given that I was not (as should have been obvious to me from the outset) the target audience.
Here, then, is my attempt at writing an alternate what-if presentation—the one I’d half-imagined (in the way working iteratively with ChatGPT or MidJourney gradually gets one closer to what one didn’t know one was imagining—OK, you see what I’m doing here) I’d learn from in Chicago. And I’ll offer the combination warning and guilty plea up front:
Second in what will probably become a series. I recently came back from the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC, or 4Cs) in Chicago, where the organizers put together a panel on ChatGPT that indicated that our institutional memory is better than I’d feared—panelists remembered their Cindy Selfe, though unfortunately not their Doug Hesse. Short version: I was probably the wrong audience for the panel, and I think they did a solid job, though I would have wished for more depth. It was helpful to me in that I made some connections after the Q&A, and the panel also helped me imagine the panel presentation I’d hoped to see, so I’ve been working on a long-read semi-technical ChatGPT explainer with implications for composition instructors that I’ll post here in the next few days. The strongest parts of the panel were those dealing with direct pedagogical applications of ChatGPT. I wonder, though, what Peter Elbow might say about ChatGPT and “closing my eyes as I speak,” since ChatGPT effectively removes one element (the rhetor or writer) from the rhetorical triangle, productively isolating the other two elements (audience and message) for analysis of how they interact. What sorts of rhetorical experiments might we perform that would benefit from reducing the number of variables to analyze by entirely dismissing the possibility of authorship and rhetorical purpose?
Hat tip, by the way, to ClancyRatliff for proposing the Intellectual Property Caucus resolution on Large Language Model (LLM) AI prose generators like ChatGPT at the CCCC business meeting: seconded by me, and passed by overwhelmingly affirmative vote. The statement: The Intellectual Property Standing Group moves that teachers and administrators work with students to help them understand how to use generative language models (such as ChatGPT) ethically in different contexts, and work with educational institutions to develop guidelines for using generative language models, without resorting to taking a defensive stance.
When I’ve felt stuck with writing, I’ve sometimes tried to make art. My tastes run more to the semi-abstract and non-figurative, so that’s what I often end up doing. I’m a longtime fan of the natural media app Painter, and my production cycle goes back and forth between Photoshop and Painter (I use a tablet and stylus), with frequently saved iterations then cycling through Deep Dream Generator and back again into Painter and Photoshop. It tends to be a process of discovery: I seldom know what it’s going to come out as when I start (the derivation from Rodin’s Burghers of Calais is an obvious exception), and simply follow the lines or patterns as I iterate, usually over several dozen versions. I’m sure my deuteranopia shows in my color selection, and I’m fine with that. The files linked below (click to embiggen) are a little less than half the size of the originals (about 40 inches wide at 150 dpi).
“There is something in the telling of our lies that can redeem us, can make us better than we are. We see Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg battlefield, with his son’s body on a stretcher before him, his hand on the boy’s head, his eyes cast down, the sound of the artillery in the distance like thunder, or like the beating of a great heart, and Lincoln says, This world does not belong to the strong.”
A little over 10 years ago, I was in Afghanistan. I’d taken my first full-time Assistant Professor position at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and volunteered to deploy as a faculty mentor for the NATO-led National Training Mission in Afghanistan, working on the academic side of helping rebuild Afghan institutions of higher education after 30 years of war. I felt like it was the least I could do after how badly the US, uh, fouled up their country. I blogged some about it, but there was a lot I couldn’t or wouldn’t or didn’t talk much about.
For one, I made the decision to deploy without a sidearm, which annoyed some of my military and civilian colleagues, all of whom did carry guns.1 I didn’t think I would be a very helpful mentor to the Afghan writing professors carrying a gun: trust; rhetorical ethos. (Weird brag. Sorry.)
For another, it was scary to get shot at and shelled and rocketed. That went without saying (weird brag again; sorry), and I didn’t want to alarm folks back home, and I was grateful that the Taliban’s reputation for terrible aim was well-earned. (OK, let’s try one more time to get away from the rhetorical swagger, Mike.🙄) I had been elected incoming junior chair of the CCCC Intellectual Property Caucus and was required to participate in the conference in some way, and I gave a very windy videorecorded talk in my desert camo ACUs. The ad hoc online component of the conference (such as it was, improvised by the organization’s bloggers: checking out links to presentation materials, following Twitter feeds, reading blogged accounts) was enjoyable and, yes, exciting.
The biggest thing I had a hard time acknowledging even elliptically was the March 1, 2011 killing of nine Afghan boys gathering firewood in Mano Gai by United States attack helicopters soldiers. I felt heartsick, helpless, furious, disgusted. I didn’t know what to say to H—–, or F—–, or Muhammad, or Freshta, or Shams, or any of my other Afghan colleagues at the time, some of whom would become my friends.2 I wish I’d had the courage and humanity to say more than “I’m so sorry.”
This year, the 2022 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) began on March 9, thirteen days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Conference was online, and the organizers made the decision that all presentation materials had to be uploaded by February 28—still four days after the invasion. I videorecorded my presentation wearing blue and yellow, which felt like—literally—the least I could do. I wondered, hopefully, how much CCCC conferees and leadership would have to say about the war.
It turns out I needn’t have.
CCCC leadership has been silent on the war. I went to a lot of the on-demand panels and a few live ones, and I was pretty frustrated to hear no mention—notafudgypeep—in any of the presentations or materials or discussion I saw, with the sole exception of an advertisement from Norton in the program, which I happily reproduce here without permission from NCTE or CCCC. (Yes, Mike, grump grump.)
Thank you for that, Norton, seriously—no sarcasm. I’ll be buying and assigning more of your books.
And, well, CCCC leadership—I guess I’m not sure what I hope you’ll do. I saw the phrase “life-and-death issue” used freely in public statements by the conference leadership. I saw Asao Inoue’s phrase “so that people stop killing each other” quoted more than any other line at the conference. I saw the conference CFP pose the question: “How do we remain relevant?”
So what’s the protocol for relevance when a missile intentionally aimed at a train station for fleeing refugees kills more than 50 civilians? Does one argue over the nuances of the dative case in the phrase “за детей” after seeing the flop of that dead boy’s little body?
I feel like organizations that find themselves operating on ethical principles demonstrably distinct from the ones they have privileged might ought watch that video again.
1 I discovered in the violentaftermath of the Terry Jones Q’uran-burning incident that my organization had an emergency safe with long guns, as I’d somewhat expected. The most sphincter-clenching phrase I’ve ever heard is still “insurgents in ANA uniforms inside the perimeter.”
2 The folks named successfully emigrated to the US. I no longer hear from H—–, and F—–‘s P-2 visa application has remained in State Department limbo since August.