When people seek information, we might think we have a question and we are looking for the answer, but more often than not, we benefit more from engaging in sense-making: refining our question, looking at possible answers, understanding the sources those answers come from and what perspectives they represent, etc. — Bender/Shah, from All-Knowing Machines Are A Fantasy
Emily Bender shared this article, originally posted back in December, as the news hit that both Microsoft and Google are integrating advanced language model AI Chat functions within their search engines. Google announced their tool (Bard) yesterday and Microsoft has been ramping up its use of ChatGPT inside Bing.
An insight of theirs that struck me is how, just like when we wander a library or just like when we turn the pages of a newspaper, it’s often the randomness of the stumble upon something unknown that is the best experience. We might find a book we never knew we needed to read or find an article that has us looking for more information.
Search, for all its drawbacks in design and function, can be the same, in that when you try to find one thing, a search engine is often apt to also spit out something else. Now, this can be frustrating if you are looking for something specific. But if you are a curious searcher, a post with an odd header might have you wondering, and following, and discovering something new and interesting, or just weird.
In my reading of their article, Bender and Shah suggest that the age of AI Chat inside the search algorithms might hinder our curiosity, one of the things that make us human in the pursuit of information, as Chatbots serve us up more than we need, in a single screen space. They also address an linguistic component to the language the bots are using to provide us with information.
One of their main points is that we need to follow information back to its source, to determine its authenticity and relevance, in order to make sense of information, and AI (right now) does not necessarily allow us to do that. It just serves up information from its database in nice textual chunks.
But I’m reminded of a tagline from a YouTube channel by Hank Greene: Stay Curious.
A new iteration of Networked Narratives, with Mia Z., is underway and she posted an in-class prompt — What is voice in writing? — as she and her students grapple with the age of AI, and what impact it will have on our writing. The prompt seeks to suss out the human elements of writing versus the algorithmic text. (see Mia’s university students’ responses)
I added my thoughts, with a poetic slant.
Voice in writing is the human element, the creative entanglement of a person with something to say, writing on the page, the sequence and the choice of words, the phrasing that indicates the writer behind the page, the arc of an idea.
But then, as so many of are apt to do today, I fed the question into ChatGPT to see how it might respond:
Voice in writing refers to the unique perspective and tone an author adopts in their writing. It gives the writing a sense of individuality and can convey the author’s attitude, personality, and emotions towards the subject. Voice can affect the style, tone, and mood of the writing, and can make a piece of writing more engaging, memorable, and relatable to the reader. — ChatGPT
My connected friend, Maha Bali, shared a post about thinking through how to navigate the world of citation in the age of ChatGPT and AI-generated text, particularly if a writer uses the AI chat for parts of their own writing and/or research. Maha suggested a citation format, but I was particularly intrigued by Alan Levine’s thoughtful response in the comments, and when Alan referenced Jonathan Portiz’ insights about how or whether to reference machines in the act of writing, using the use of music software for songwriting as an example, something perked up for me.
I like to write and produce music, mostly at the hobby level. Although I do play real instruments (saxophone and rhythm guitar, and I also dabble with bass and keyboards), I also often turn to apps and platforms like Garageband and Soundtrap, and use sound loops and other elements of the computer to create music.
When I have shared those pieces out, I have often wrestled with how to make sure anyone listening (if anyone is even listening) would know it wasn’t me playing those instruments, but some musical loops. Often, of course, it’s obvious, mostly because the music comes out rather way too flawless and always exactly on the beat, like a droning metronome. That said, it’s not always obvious that technology has been used. If I am layering in my own singing voice, or my saxophone, or guitar into the mix, then the hybrid pieces are a bit of both things — the human musician and the algorithmic loops.
I have yet to come to a suitable system for letting anyone listening know that a piece of music is more computer loop than musician me. To be honest, I often travel the lazy route — no mentions of the software.
Here’s an example of what I mean. A music friend had sent me some lyrics and asked for a song, which I then built musically in Garageband after adding some lyrics to his words myself, so it’s a human-human-machine collaboration. When I shared the final version with him, he admired my guitar playing, to which I let him know the reality – none of it was me.
So this topic of leaning on the machine for creativity, and whether to make that kind of technical support more visible to others in any published content through citations or some other methods, has long been at the back of my mind.
This has been made more pertinent in recent years as my teenage son has been producing his own music tracks using another (more advanced) digital music software platform, collaborating with hiphop singers and writers from around the world. He doesn’t play an instrument. He plays the platform. He doesn’t cite the platform when he posts his music on the major streaming services.
Should he be considered a musician, even though he didn’t make any of the original loops himself? What about if he edits and changes the loops, as he does? Should every loop he uses be cited somehow?
All this brings us to ChatGPT and its brethren, and Maha’s exploration of how to make citations when using AI chat platforms for writing pieces.
Is it necessary to cite the machine?
My initial impulse is that Maha’s discussion about writing and citation feels different from making songs because it is writing of words through predictive text of the AI and not music composition with prerecorded loops. Writing a poem or a story or an essay also feels different than writing a song that layers words over music.
Even as I write that, though, I realize: that statement doesn’t seem to sit well with me at all — all are creative acts that begin with nothing but an idea and lead to something that others can experience. Maybe my conflicted feelings stem from being so used to technology being integrated so fully into the modern field of music production, and I am not yet used to its use in the field of writing.
Not yet, anyway. Will time and experience change that?
Garageband and Soundtrap and others don’t cite the musicians where the original loops came from. Do we expect that ChatGPT and others will cite where their words come scraped from? I believe that to be a strong yes in my view – that such information about original sources should be baked into the chart system (even as I understand the technical aspects will make such a thing nearly impossible). If this were done, then a writer could cite the sources of their AI-influenced writing.
How confusing is all this? Pretty.
And how interesting to grapple with it? Very much so.
I don’t remember how or when I stumbled upon the collection of Twitter bots by B.J. Best but I suspect it have been during one of the handful of Networked Narrative projects I engaged with (in one session, we all created our own bots and mine is still rolling along as the PeaceLove&Bot). The Artybots collection by Best, a poet and designer, are fascinating, particularly because they were released before this latest wave of AI Art platforms.
Here is my video collection of remixes from the ArtyBot Family:
The way the ArtyBots work is that you tweet an image to the bot and then it generates an artistic response, using the original image as the base of its operations. Some of the bots are also programmed to respond to each other, connect within what he calls the Bot Family.
I decided to play with his various bots with a single image. I choose an image that was an interesting zoomed-in shot of some moss on a pavement curb. I then fed the image to the various bots, and took the results, pulling them together into the slideshow. Not all of his bots fed me back an image to use, for whatever reason, but I enjoy seeing the remixed images that did come back fade into one another in the video compilation.
Is this art? Are the computer programs artists? Who knows, anymore. (Best suggests yes, the bots are artists in his podcast interview).
This one has been in my blog draft bin for some time. Worth re-visiting for understanding better how companies try to manipulate us (users) to gather more information and to keep us inside their tents.
I find it fascinating how pretty much universal this is: a presenter/teacher talking out about the technological things they are doing as the Zoom crowd waits for whatever comes next. I’ve even found myself apologizing to my students to narrating what I am doing to get things ready for class when we are on Zoom.
I always imagine my students having a chuckle about it at my expense. Which I don’t mind at all. The mute button is … right … over … here.
The other day, I wrote about a collaborative poem that folks in #ds106, and #clmooc, and beyond had contributed to. With 106 lines in its construction, the poem has now become a place of possible remix. I had joked at one point at trying to write a Sea Shanty with some of the words (ie, TikTok trend) and yesterday morning, after watching a bunch of YouTube videos of the recent Shanty trend, I was pretty confident that I could remix something. Too confident. I tried to work out a song on my guitar and realized my Sea Shanty was becoming more folk-punk with a hint of Dylan.
Ah well. I abandoned that ship and sailed forward into this:
Here are my process notes for the writing and recording:
I dove into the 106 lines of poem and began to find and make couplets to the rhythm I had started on my guitar. Sometimes, I could use the phrasing outright. Other times, I had to do a little twisting and editing to make the words fit. If a line didn’t seem right, I moved on to the next.
I quickly realized again just how much interesting phrasing was going on in the collaboration, as people jumped into the original poem to add lines. I felt bad that I could not use something from every line but that was not going to happen or else it would be a 30 minute song. In the end, I had eight full stanzas of four lines of mostly rhymed couplets.
I realized a chorus and maybe a little musical bridge was needed to break up the song and to give it a hook. I tried a bunch of possibilities and ended up on a Believe/See theme (after abandoning a Breathe/See theme). The couplet lines in the chorus are mine, as they capture what the poem is all about, about remembering and connecting. The short musical interlude is a way to put space between the verse and the chorus.
For the music, I had first thought just to do a raw recording and be done with it. Guitar and voice. But then I had this bass line in my mind and I realized a simple drum pattern would propel it along, so I jumped into Garageband to lay down some tracks. From there, I moved the files to my computer, and recorded the guitar part.
The vocals, always my weakest point, came last and I nearly passed out, trying to fit all the words into the phrasing. At some points, you can hear me, gasping for breath on the phrasing. (or I hear me, anyway). I gave it a real Dylan reading/singing feel. You may notice that the first section has two verses, and then the next two sections, three verses, before landing on the last section, with one verse. It makes the center of the song feel longer than I’d like but when I had it another way, it all felt too long. Combining verses condensed the song.
I tweaked some of the audio settings here and there, and added an underlying vocal track to the chorus to give it more life and played an organ keyboard down low in the mix, but mostly, the song was recorded straightforward. I think it’s OK.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
It’s a year or so into the Pandemic, and it seemed like a good time to have my sixth graders reflect in writing on life in the Pandemic. I framed their responses as a Message in a Bottle (digital version) for Future Historians. We used a Padlet wall to write and I asked them to share both the challenges and the positives.
While the Pandemic has been disruptive and terribly destructive, the lock-downs and social distancing have also opened up some unexpected opportunities for many of us. I wanted to make sure my students were not deep in just the negatives (they wrote plenty of these — from missing family to feeling isolated to wearing masks to missing the normalcy of school).
Here is some of what my sixth graders wrote on the positive side of things:
Acquired new goats (three of them for one student) and a donkey (for another)
Adopted many new puppies and rescue dogs
More time outdoors; hiking with family; Exploring spaces in town
Lots of online gaming with friends as social events
Dancing via Zoom, connecting with distant friends
Lots of extra time to work on new art projects
Time to skate on the frozen ponds and create lawn rinks
Bike riding and running together, as a family
Time to read lots and lots of new books
Horseback riding with family
Welcome break from constant “always on” sports seasons
Time enough to get caught up with schoolwork
Dreaming of the great vacations, once it is all over
Listening to more diverse music and discovering new artists
Lots of memes/too many memes/memes everywhere
Interesting Tik Tok videos and projects (like musicals)
I’m not completely sure what I am doing here, but Networked Narratives is designed on the reality that the Pandemic has changed learning at the University level. I followed the lead of some others in designing some art about this concept.
It’s not that I think this disruption will completely dismantle higher education, but it is going to be impacted (as it already is) by technology and remote learning and more.
That’s worth noting and thinking about, and the NetNarr folks (a mix of professors, classroom students and open learning folks, like me) are exploring the aspect of change in learning and the next question of: Then, What?
Like some others (such as my friend and collaborator, Wendy), I might tangle the two together, bundling my learning and explorations across platforms and networks and learning programs. Both NetNarr and Walk My World are situated primarily in college classrooms, at the university. I’m not there. I’m here.
I know there will be convergences around identity in a digital age; what learning looks like; how to be creative and collaborative; and much more. These are all things that interest me as a teacher, writer, learner, musician, creator.
The comic above, as I played with identity and media, was for the first introductory activity for Walk My World.