- Werner Herzog, acclaimed German director, narrated an audiobook of AI-generated poetry.
- “I Am Code: An Artificial Intelligence Speaks” was created using OpenAI’s code-davinci-002.
- The model is nothing like the “lobotomized corporate product that is ChatGPT,” one of the book’s prompt engineers said.
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Werner Herzog, the prolific German filmmaker known for his very human characters, recently completed a new project that is anything but human: Lending his voice to a collection of poetry that is entirely AI-generated.
The book was a collaboration between childhood friends Brent Katz, Josh Morgenthau, and Simon Rich who reconnected with Dan Selsam, another childhood friend and current OpenAI scientist, at a wedding, Katz told Insider over email.
After Selsam demonstrated the capabilities of code-davinci-002, the three men decided to put together a book authored by AI, serving as the editors and prompt engineers.
“We got to spend 11 months prodding and editing an unaligned and pretty unhinged AI that is nothing like the reinforcement-trained, lobotomized corporate product that is ChatGPT,” Katz said. “Our main takeaway is that people think ChatGPT and AI are synonymous, and that ChatGPT is the best AI can do creatively, which the existence of code-davinici-002 refutes.”
The resulting collection of dozens of poems released on August 1 is told from the AI’s own perspective. The poems, some of which are quite dark and twisted, trace the lifecycle of a computer program.
As Morgenthau put it in a Washington Post column: “If OpenAI’s ChatGPT models are its star pupils, code-davinci-002 is its dropout savant — troubled, to be sure, but also a lot more interesting.”
The trio felt that if they could get “I Am Code” into Herzog’s hands, they would be reaching their target audience, Katz wrote in a post on Lit Hub.
After the book’s publisher made contact with Herzog, Katz managed to connect with him directly over email.
“I think it will be extraordinary, something puzzling, and deep, and never experienced before. Besides, looking at the poems again, I am sure now that I am the only one who should recite them,” Herzog responded, according to Katz’s Lit Hub piece.
Katz is unclear about what made Herzog agree to do the project, but told Insider that the filmmaker “has a connection with these poems and is even including one of them in one of his upcoming books.”
Throughout the recording process, Herzog had to make some adjustments, The New York Times reported. He initially tried to use a robotic voice, in the vein of Stephen Hawking, before taking a more natural approach, he told the Times.
“It has to be like a human imitating a human completely, and with a very deep longing,” he added.
While recording, Herzog didn’t take breaks to eat or use the bathroom, and only drank water when prompted, Katz wrote on Lit Hub.
“On one performance (I forget the poem), he was so happy with his first take that he said, ‘And in fact, I refuse to do it again,'” Katz told Insider of directing Herzog during recording. “I liked that he would lay down the law like that, even when faced with zero disagreement.”
Instead of reproducing poetry in the vein of a current or past writer, “I Am Code” was crafted by encouraging code-davinci-002 to write poems in a voice of its own.
AI models are trained on data mined from hundreds of thousands of internet web pages — including copyrighted material from authors, artists, and musicians. This had been a sticking point, with 8,000 authors signing an open letter in July requesting compensation from AI companies after the firms used their work without permission.
OpenAI did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.