Unfortunately, the same technology could one day put me out of a job. Artificial intelligence systems are also getting pretty good at writing.
This is because they are able to understand the context of a situation and create lyrics that are appropriate for the audience. In addition, they can use their extensive knowledge to come up with creative ideas that are both interesting and humorous.
Do you understand what I mean? That last paragraph was generated by ParagraphAI, a free app for smartphones and desktop browsers that can unwind decent prose. It uses the same artificial intelligence software package that powers DALL-E and it works the same way. Tell ParagraphAI what to write about – in this case, how an AI program can write good prose – and out comes the text.
It’s not Pulitzer-worthy, but good enough to meet an early deadline.
Both DALL-E and ParagraphAI are powered by an AI engine developed by San Francisco-based OpenAI, which was founded in 2015 by Tesla’s CEO and, among others, the new Twitter owner Elon Musk.
OpenAI is an even bigger moonshot than Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, because it aims to build computer systems that go beyond AI and achieve “AGI.” This is artificial General Intelligence – Machines that can really think. That’s far from the case, but between Musk and Microsoft, OpenAI has raised over $2 billion to address the issue. And just look at what it has achieved so far.
OpenAI is a for-profit research lab, which is why we can play with their toys. The company allows anyone to use DALL-E for free up to a certain point. New users get 50 free image creation credits. Up to four new images can be generated with each credit. After that, you can buy more credits if needed. For example, 115 credits cost $15.
In addition, OpenAI allows external companies to purchase access to its AI software for resale to the public. This is ParagraphAI’s business model.
“Our mission is to put AI in everyone’s hands,” said co-founder Kevin Frans, a graduate student in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Toronto and Cambridge-based ParagraphAI offers a free version that allows you to generate up to 20 pieces of text per day. After that, you can pay $9.95 per month for 150 uses per day. The company promotes the service as an easier way for busy people to reply to emails or write business reports.
But there is no guarantee that the resulting text will make sense. When I asked for a short essay on Frank Sinatra’s performance in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, ParagraphAI wrote that Sinatra was “terrifying and likable” in a 1948 film version that is “generally considered to be one of the best interpretations of Macbeth in film.”
Of course, Sinatra never did a Macbeth film. A human would have had enough sense to verify that, but ParagraphAI just cobbled together some plausible-sounding nonsense, perfect in spelling and grammar, but dead wrong.
I also received a bizarre response when I asked ParagraphAI to write about Musk’s recent purchase of Twitter. “Elon Musk took over Twitter in April 2013,” the computer replied. “He paid $26 million for the social media platform.” Frans explained that the data used to train the algorithm is a few years old, so the software isn’t up-to-date on current events. But that doesn’t explain why it’s fake news.
ParagraphAI cautions users to read the machine-generated texts before using them to ensure they make sense and that the material has not been accidentally plagiarized from another online source.
DALL-E also has its weaknesses. Faces are a particular sore point. They are often distorted and even look scary. But the more detailed you describe the image you want, the more impressive the results will be.
For example, I got decent images when I typed in “Boston Skyline Thunderstorm”. But I was much better with “an ominous 4K image of the Boston skyline as an early evening thunderstorm gathers.” Incidentally, DALL-E reacts to dozens of trigger words such as “ominous” or “happy”. It also upped the resolution to 4K and made for dim lighting at sunset. Just because I said so.
I can see where this is going. One day the best artists in the world will be the ones who can create the most subtle and sophisticated text commands for DALL-E. They don’t learn to paint. You will learn to type.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.