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Did Roald Dahl predict the rise of ChatGPT in 1953?

By NICK GARCIA Published Apr 06, 2023 5:42 pm

It seems that Roald Dahl, the British author behind the classics Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, just predicted the rise of artificial intelligence platforms like ChatGPT—and how it's feared to upend the world of letters—some 70 years ago.

Dani Di Placido, a senior contributor at Forbes magazine, in an essay noted how the ChatGPT phenomenon has similarities to Dahl's 1953 short story The Great Automatic Grammatizator.

In the short story, aspiring fictionist and tech genius Adolph Knipe partners with businessman John Bohlen to create a machine that can write on his behalf.

ChatGPT, meanwhile, was developed by OpenAI, a San Francisco-based research and development company. It has taken the world by storm with its ability to generate finely crafted texts like essays or poems in just seconds.

"Give it the verbs, the nouns, the adjectives, the pronouns, store them in the memory section as a vocabulary, and arrange for them to be extracted as required. Then feed it with plots and leave it to write the sentences," an excerpt from Dahl's short story reads, pertaining to the machine.

Dahl imagined the machine as filled with whirring cogs, rods, and levers. It also has a series of buttons that can control the genre, theme, and literary style—even name-dropping authors like Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and James Joyce.

The machine can write a novel in 15 minutes, just like how ChatGPT can generate finely crafted texts following prompts from users.

Eventually, Knipe and Bohlen become prolific and successful thanks to their invention. But Knipe, craving more than just praises, wants to "absorb" all the other writers they deem as competitors by offering them a lifetime contract with pay. He offers them to stop writing and let the machine use their names for its writing.

Knipe's idea was met with criticism, much like how several figures around the world don't approve of AI platforms. (In fact, Knipe earlier in the story said that a machine, however ingenious, is incapable of original thought.)

Knipe, then, decides to only approach "mediocre" writers who he believes are "quite so easy to seduce." After all, Knipe claims that all they're interested in is money "just like everybody else."

He's able to persuade many writers and later on, much of the works published in the English language come from Knipe via his machine.

The story ends on a tragic note, as an author who's against Knipe is torn between signing "that golden contract that lies over on the other side of the desk" and feeding his nine starving children "in the other room."

ChatGPT and other AI platforms has already been a cause for concern, especially in the academe where some students allegedly use them to write papers and answer exams.

In Geneva in Switzerland, dozens of educators in a teaching workshop sounded the alarm over ChatGPT "upending the world of education as we know it."

Economists from Goldman Sachs, a global investment bank, also predicted that AI platforms like ChatGPT could affect 300,000 million full-time jobs around the world, saying 18% of work globally could be computerized.

AI has also been criticized for generating artworks and even fake, misleading images, like that of Pope Francis wearing a puffer jacket.