This Is Not My Blog Post. Or, Why the Giraffe Has Two Necks.

What you are about to read is not my writing, not all of it, anyway. It’s been generated by an AI bot with prompts from me. I’m using “frase” technology, because I’m too impatient to wait to be let into the ChatGPT website. So, you get onto frase and scroll down (way down) to the bottom. It gives you a window to type in whatever you want as a topic, and then after a minute or so, out pops some writing.

My first prompt was “why does a giraffe have spots?” and then I sat back let the electronic Bard do its thing. What popped out the other end was principally rubbish, mixed with a few traces of a real answer.

Giraffes are one of the long-necked animals that live on the earth today. They are the tallest animal in Africa, with a length of 3.3 meters and a weight of 1,160 kilograms. They have five pairs of legs and two necks, which gives them the ability to look high up in the sky because their neck is so long! Giraffe’s eyesight is also formidable, able to see more than 5 kilometers away at night.

One common observation about giraffes is their spots! Giraffes have beautiful patterns on their skin that come in many different colors and variations. The spots are actually very special; they play an important role in giraffe ecology and survival! The spots provide protection from predators and fading sunlight during the day. They also help identify individual giraffes in a herd or flock!

I used AI (Wonder) to illustrate this evolutionary phenomenon. The glaring mistakes include two necks, ten legs and visual acuity at night (apparently used while traveling in a flock). However, undaunted, I twiddled some knobs and asked “Are whales and giraffes related?”

In early 2017, a study was published which suggested that giraffes and whales are related. The study used computer models to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of various mammals. The research found that many mammal species share a common ancestor that lived about 55 million years ago. This ancestor was a tall, slender creature that resembled both a giraffe and a whale. The study is still in its early stages, but it could have major implications for understanding mammalian evolution. It could help us to better understand how living things changed over time, and it could also help us to identify potential connections between different mammal species.

I have to admit it a bit sounds better, although it’s hard to imagine an animal that resembles both a giraffe and a whale. So do we abandon it? Maybe not. Because at least there actually was a study, albeit published in 2013, relating giraffes and cetaceans. A phylogenetic blueprint for a modern whale was published in Molecular Genetics and Evolution. Of course, I had to use Google Scholar to find it, but at least it was there. So a massive shoulder shrug.

Finally, I combined two of my interests in the program and prompted the question of whether Shakespeare had ever written about giraffes. The answer that came back was the most entertaining and disturbing of the three responses.

Yes, Shakespeare did write about giraffes. In an early play called “The Taming of the Shrew,” the main character, Katherina, has a conversation with her servant about how to deal with her husband-to-be, Petruchio. While discussing Petruchio’s less than masculine attributes, Katherina asks her servant if he has ever seen a giraffe. Her servant responds by confirming that he has, and goes on to say that they are “most strange creatures.”

Later in the play, Katherina uses this information to taunt Petruchio during their mock marriage ceremony. By quoting what her servant had said about the giraffes, she manages to embarrass Petruchio and eventually win him over. This is just one of many references to animals in Shakespeare’s plays – both humorous and informative.

It’s entertaining because it sounds like a great scene. It’s disturbing, because it’s totally untrue. Shakespeare never mentioned giraffes in any of his writings. Here, look it up for yourself at this cool Open Source Shakespeare site. We’re starting to hear that AI programs are starting to be capable of writing essays that pass college exams. But if there’s no fact checking, then anything generated has the potential to be dangerous – the more believable it sounds, the more dangerous it is.

What does the future hold? Combine AI with humanoid robotics, self-healing plastic skin , self-replicating robots, and what do you get? The movie Her? Terminator? Wall-E? I don’t have a clue. Now, I’m not a Luddite, but I will say this: the more we anticipate the pitfalls as we celebrate the amazing potential, the more prepared for whatever the future may bring. Meanwhile, it’s fun to keep experimenting.

2 thoughts on “This Is Not My Blog Post. Or, Why the Giraffe Has Two Necks.

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  1. Perhaps Shakespeare anticipating putative phylogenetic links between giraffes and whales actually had giraffes in mind when he mentioned whales 9 times! e.g. in Hamlet Act 3 scene 2 “Very like a whale” says Polonius.- clearly with a giraffe in mind.

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