Wednesday, June 07, 2023

A 1976 Herzog prompt and thoughts on AI and ChatGPT

Following a post from friend, Tom Hume, I gave ChatGPT (the free version) a prompt from Werner Herzog.  He wrote this in 1976 in relation to working on his film, Heart of Glass. Tom pointed out that perhaps Herzog had invented the 'prompt'. 

As such, I thought it would be fun to try it out and see what came out. I've adapted the last line if the prompt to say 'write' rather than 'read aloud'. The full transcript is at the bottom of this blog post.

I don't know if the AI has had this prompt before, and if so, how many times, nor if it gives a different result each time. I haven't played with it enough yet to understand it's current capability. But as synthetic writing goes, it really isn't bad at all, albeit a bit flowery and clich├ęd. I'm sure there will be literary critics and avid readers who can pick further faults with it. But for most of us, it reads pretty well. 

What is interesting about this experiment is that although this is a natural language conversation, the AI doesn't understand it as such. It didn't get that I just wanted it to write me the poem that the monk had written. But instead wrote a piece of prose further elaborating what I had already written. I needed to ask an additional question to get the poem.

For the ordinary person to get the most of this technology, we're going to have to learn how to talk to a computer, how to give crystal clear instructions. The conversation style we might have with each other won't cut it. Most people's communication skills are lacking - communication is a two way street. You may be very eloquent but the person you're communicating with may not receive the message as intended. Not only that, we have so many additional layers of communication to add to the message beyond the words alone - tone of voice, body language, context, life experience, setting and more. Natural language is just one aspect of how we communicate.

I am fascinated by generative AI and what humans can achieve with it. It has taken decades for it to be where we are now and what feels like an overnight success. This is just the beginning though, and whether we like it or not, this thing isn't going away.

Here is the transcript of my conversation.

Me (quoting Herzog)

"You're the first one for centuries who has set foot on a foreign island. It's overgrown with jungle and full of strange birds. You come across a gigantic cliff, and on closer inspection discover the rock is actually green emerald. Hundreds of years ago a monk took a chisel and hammer and engraved a poem into the wall. You open your eyes and are the first one to see it. Please write what you see." 


"As I cautiously approached the gigantic cliff, my senses were immediately engulfed by the lush jungle that surrounded me. The air was heavy with humidity, the scent of damp earth and vibrant vegetation wafting through my nostrils. Strange birds of vivid hues flitted among the trees, their melodic calls echoing through the dense foliage. It was a surreal, untouched paradise.

With each step closer to the cliff, my eyes widened in awe. Towering before me was a majestic wall, its surface glimmering with an ethereal green radiance. The emerald sheen was mesmerizing, as if the very essence of nature had crystallized into this magnificent rock.

I reached out and traced the surface of the emerald with trembling fingers, marveling at the cool, smooth texture beneath my touch. The rock was firm and unyielding, a testament to the passage of time and the strength of nature.

As I studied the emerald more closely, my eyes discerned intricate engravings etched into its surface. The chisel and hammer had left their marks, crafting a poem that had stood the test of centuries. I stood back, allowing my gaze to absorb the delicate curves and flowing lines that composed the verse.

In ancient, weathered characters, the poem unfolded before me, a lyrical tale of wisdom and enlightenment. The words seemed to breathe with life, their meaning transcending the barriers of time. The poem spoke of nature's beauty, of the cycles of life and death, and the interconnectedness of all things.

As I read each line, a profound sense of gratitude and reverence washed over me. I was the first in centuries, perhaps even millenniums, to witness this testament to human artistry and the island's enigmatic allure. The enormity of the moment settled upon my shoulders, filling me with a deep sense of responsibility to preserve and honor this sacred place.

I took a step back, allowing the emerald cliff to reclaim its mystery, its green brilliance blending seamlessly with the surrounding foliage. The island had chosen to share its secret with me, inviting me into its realm of natural wonder and hidden treasures. With a heart filled with wonder and respect, I turned to leave, carrying the memory of the engraved poem forever etched in my mind."

Me (realising the AI hadn't quite understood my request)

"What was the poem exactly?"


"As an AI language model, I can certainly create a poem for you based on the scenario you've described. Here's an example of a poem that captures the essence of the scene:

In emerald cliff's embrace, I find,

A poet's legacy, long confined.

A verdant canvas, nature's muse,

Whispers of wisdom, ancient and fused.

Amidst the jungle's vibrant bloom,

Where birds of hues paint the gloom,

The chisel's dance, a monk's endeavor,

Engraved in stone, this tale to treasure.

"Behold, the cycles of life's sweet breath,

Where birth and death dance till the end.

From earth's embrace, springs life anew,

As nature weaves its eternal debut.

Through verdant vines and towering trees,

A symphony of unity on nature's keys.

Each leaf, each creature, in harmony dwell,

Bound by a thread, weaved oh so well.

Embrace the mysteries, the depths untold,

The secrets this island, ages old.

For in this emerald sanctuary we find,

A timeless truth, to all humankind.

Oh, wanderer, cherish this sacred land,

Protect its wonders with gentle hand.

Let the echoes of this poem resound,

And may reverence for nature forever be found."

With the poem etched into the emerald cliff, it stands as a testament to the island's beauty, the wisdom of the ancient monk, and the interconnectedness of all living things."


I asked ChatGPT to critique its poem. This is where it really feels like it understands. It doesn't though. It's a computer that knows how to process 0s and 1s, albeit in a very sophisticated way.

Note that it doesn't answer the question 'what is bad about it?' Rather it talks about what could be improved. I'm guessing that's deliberate in the algorithm so it doesn't come across as too negative.



'Can you critique this poem? What is good about it? What is bad about it?'


Certainly! Here's a critique of the poem:

What is good about it:

Imagery: The poem uses vivid descriptions and sensory details to paint a picture of the lush jungle, the emerald cliff, and the vibrant birds. This helps create a vivid and immersive scene for the reader.

Flow and Rhythm: The poem maintains a consistent flow and rhythm, creating a melodic quality that is pleasing to read and listen to. It flows smoothly from one line to the next, maintaining a cohesive structure.

Theme and Meaning: The poem explores themes of nature's beauty, the cycles of life and death, and the interconnectedness of all things. It reflects a sense of wonder, reverence, and respect for the natural world, which is conveyed effectively.

What can be improved:

Originality: While the poem captures the essence of the scenario, it relies on familiar tropes and imagery associated with nature and its wonders. Adding unique or unexpected elements could enhance its originality and make it stand out.

Poetic Devices: While the poem is structurally sound, it could benefit from incorporating more varied poetic devices such as metaphors, similes, or symbolism to deepen its impact and evoke stronger emotions.

Specificity: The poem could include more specific details to enhance the reader's connection to the scene. Adding specific descriptions of the birds, the foliage, or the engravings on the emerald cliff could make the imagery more vivid and engaging.

Overall, the poem creates a pleasant and evocative atmosphere, but adding more originality, poetic devices, and specific details could enhance its depth and make it even more captivating.

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