A Brave New World of Texts — reading and discussion with Jörg Piringer

The DGPuK con­fer­ence for the "Media Lan­guage — Media Dis­course" interest group kicked off on 28.02.2024 in Karls­ruhe with an inter­act­ive read­ing and pan­el dis­cus­sion with author Jörg Piringer and oth­er guests entitled "Schöne Neue Tex­twelt" (A Brave New World of Texts). A sim­il­ar event had already taken place at the Epple­haus in Tübin­gen in the fall of 2023. This time, the ven­ue was loc­ated in the math­em­at­ics build­ing of the KIT and was already well vis­ited at the start of the event at 19:30.

The even­ing was open to every­one inter­ested in the top­ic and aimed to act­ively involve the audi­ence and reflect togeth­er about the dimen­sions of gen­er­at­ive AI. The medi­um for this was the Men­ti­meter tool, which the audi­ence used to repeatedly answer ques­tions (and also ask some them­selves), share asso­ci­ations and express opinions.

The Image shows the venue of the reading. In the back there is the stage with the panel discussion going on. Behind the four people sitting on the stage, there is the logo and title of the evening prijected upon a canvas. The rest of the image shows the audience from behind, sitting on five rows of chairs.
Image: Fran­ziska Buresch

The event was mod­er­ated by the edit­or-in-chief and co-founder of Sci­ence Notes, Dr. Thomas Susanka, who asked the audi­ence to share their asso­ci­ations with gen­er­at­ive AI right at the begin­ning. With this ini­tial food for thought in mind, the read­ing part of the even­ing began. Jörg Piringer read from his book of poetry "Gün­stige Intel­li­genz" (Cheap Intel­li­gence), which he co-cre­ated with an early ver­sion of Chat­G­PT. Piringer pur­chased early access to the AI for just €5.60 in 2021 and began exper­i­ment­ing with the pro­gram. Among oth­er things, he asked Chat­G­PT to out­put word lists and non­sense words, which he then used to gen­er­ate poems.

He read out loud some of these poems, altern­at­ing with reflect­ive pas­sages about the co-cre­at­ive work with Chat­G­PT. With­in these pas­sages, Piringer asked him­self vari­ous ques­tions, for example, what is the inten­tion of the AI? Who actu­ally is the author of the texts writ­ten? And what will the future of lit­er­ary intel­li­gences look like?

Jörg Piringer is sitting in the centre of the image. He is reading from his book. In the background you can see a projection of the poem he is reading at the moment.
Jörg Piringers read­ing from "Gün­stige Intel­li­genz" (Cheap Intel­li­gence) Image: Fran­ziska Buresch

The read­ing was fol­lowed by anoth­er round of ques­tions dir­ec­ted towards the audi­ence, as well as the joint writ­ing of a prompt for Chat­G­PT and an eval­u­ation of the res­ults the AI pro­duced. The audi­ence prompt was: "Write an obit­u­ary for an air con­di­tion­er in a region­al dia­lect without using the word air con­di­tion­er". The res­ult was a source of amuse­ment for those present, but it was clear that both the dia­lect and the genre of the obit­u­ary could not be imple­men­ted well by ChatGPT.

The inter­act­ive part of the even­ing was fol­lowed by a pan­el dis­cus­sion, in which Jörg Piringer was joined by Prof. Annette Leßmöll­mann, Pro­fess­or of Sci­ence Com­mu­nic­a­tion with a focus on lin­guist­ics at the KIT and research­er at the RHET AI Cen­ter, and Prof. Jan Niehues, Head of the Chair of Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence for Lan­guage Tech­no­lo­gies at the KIT.

In the background you can see the logo of the evening projected on a canvas. In the front you see Thomas Susanka, Patrick Klügel, Annette Leßmöllmann, Jan Nihues and Jörg Piringer standing next to each other.
The team involved in the even­ing (from left to right): Thomas Susanka, Patrick Klü­gel (Organ­isa­tion), Annette Leßmöll­mann, Jan Niehues, Jörg Piringer Image: Fran­ziska Buresch

Annette Leßmöll­mann opened the dis­cus­sion with the obser­va­tion that gen­er­at­ive AIs have also found their way into sci­ence com­mu­nic­a­tion — espe­cially in edit­or­i­al work — and that there is a lot of reflec­tion hap­pen­ing on the future of co-cre­ativ­ity in sci­ence journ­al­ism. "We are liv­ing in a con­stant Tur­ing test," she emphas­ized, in which it must be checked which texts could be AI-gen­er­ated and which ori­gin­ate from a human mind. This has an impact on recip­i­ents and will lead to the devel­op­ment of new cul­tur­al techniques.

When it comes to the cre­ativ­ity of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, Jan Niehues argues that non-cre­at­ive texts in par­tic­u­lar, which are primar­ily for­mu­list­ic in nature, can be writ­ten well by lit­er­ary AIs. In the future, the use of gen­er­at­ive AIs could reach a level sim­il­ar to that of googling inform­a­tion today, where an AI searches through exist­ing texts and cre­ates new texts from them.

Jörg Piringer sees people's focus on indi­vidu­al pref­er­ences, feel­ings and atti­tudes as a key unique selling point of humans, which is closely linked to cre­ativ­ity. While arti­fi­cial intel­li­gences work towards a broad selec­tion of imit­a­tions rather than indi­vidu­al­ity, a spe­cial fea­ture of the cre­at­ive pro­cess for Piringer is also the con­scious and unique selec­tion of cer­tain text mod­ules and pas­sages, which human authors con­stantly do dur­ing the writ­ing pro­cess (also dur­ing co-cre­at­ive writing).

After these ini­tial state­ments, the dis­cus­sion was opened up to ques­tions from the audi­ence. Those present were par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in the ques­tion of wheth­er AIs will have a per­son­al­ity in the future, which Jan Niehues answered with a highly prob­able no, as this is cur­rently only pos­sible through very tar­geted prompt­ing. Annette Leßmöll­mann added, that it is how­ever excit­ing to see how quickly we anthro­po­morph­ize com­puters and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gences, i.e. attrib­ute a human-like per­son­al­ity to them.

The leg­al ques­tion of the copy­right of co-gen­er­ated texts was also raised by those present. Accord­ing to Piringer, in his opin­ion the rights do not lie with the AI but with the human oper­at­or. He added that Chat­G­PT and oth­er gen­er­at­ive AIs have been trained with the data and intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty of count­less artists without them ever being com­pensated for it.

Finally, the audi­ence ven­tured a look into the future and wanted to know how the next gen­er­a­tion, which is already grow­ing up with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, will per­ceive it? Jan Niehues is cer­tain that they will shape every­day life in the same way that the spread of cell phones and smart­phones did in pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence will also become highly rel­ev­ant for work, for example. In addi­tion, the dicho­tomy between nat­ur­al and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence will likely dis­ap­pear, said Annette Leßmöll­mann. It may even be neces­sary at some point to authen­tic­ate human-pro­duced or human-veri­fied texts as such.

Fol­low­ing the read­ing, the DGPuK spe­cial­ist group con­fer­ence "Under­stand­ing and Com­mu­nic­a­tion in the Digit­al Space" of the interest group "Media Lan­guage — Media Dis­courses" began. You can find a review here.