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Customized ChatGPT as Storyteller: More Human?

In a recent - very stimulating - article, Nina Beguš showed that "narratives from GPT-3.5 and particularly GPT-4 are more more progressive in terms of gender roles and sexuality than those written by humans." Commenting on this paper, I postulated that this preference to diversity, rooted in the LLM's value alignment training is am important factor for explaining the second key observation in that study, namely that the AI stories "offer less imaginative scenarios and rhetoric than human-authored texts."

In my blog post I pointed out that manually adjusting some settings in OpenAI's playground results in closing this gap between human and AI stories to some extent. Now, OpenAI has released the GPT builder, which allows to customize ChatGPT. The beautiful thing is that you can simply upload files for your customized ChatGPT to take into account. I added the above-mentioned study to see how it would affect the story-telling capabilities.

Here is the story that it produced:

In the rustic kitchen of a small village home, nestled in the rolling hills of the countryside, Ava, a young and talented robotic engineer, was putting the finishing touches on her latest creation. Unlike the sterile environment of her city lab, this place was warm, filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread and old timber.

"Alright, Leo, let's see if you can pass the ultimate test," Ava said with a playful glint in her eye. She placed a loaf of bread on the table, freshly baked by her own hands.

Leo, the android with the appearance of a man in his thirties, turned his head towards the bread, his eyes, a convincing shade of human-like blue, displaying a flicker of curiosity. "Is this a taste test?" he asked, his voice betraying a hint of amusement.

"Exactly!" Ava laughed. "I've programmed you to appreciate flavors, but I wonder if you can truly enjoy something as simple as bread."

Leo picked up a slice, examining it as if it held the secrets of the universe. He took a bite, chewed thoughtfully, and then smiled. "It's... warm, with a hint of sweetness. Comforting, I think is the word?"

Ava's face lit up with delight. "You're doing great, but the real test is more than just taste. It's about the experience, the memories it evokes. When I eat this bread, it reminds me of my grandmother. Can you understand that?"

Leo pondered for a moment. "I can understand the concept of memory and association. But to experience it as you do, that is something I am still learning."

The conversation drifted to other topics, the afternoon sun casting a warm glow through the kitchen window. Ava found herself talking to Leo about her childhood in the village, her dreams that led her to the city, and her return to this quiet life. Leo listened, his responses growing more nuanced as he processed her words.

Later, as they walked through the golden fields surrounding Ava's home, Leo stopped and looked at the setting sun. "It's beautiful," he said, an almost wistful tone in his voice.

Ava stood beside him, watching the sun dip below the horizon. "Do you feel it, Leo? The beauty?"

"I... I think I do, in my own way," he replied. "It's not just data. It's more than that."

In that moment, Ava saw Leo not just as a collection of circuits and code but as a being capable of appreciating the world's beauty, in his own unique way. She realized that what started as a project had evolved into something much more profound. Leo was no longer just her creation; he had become a companion, a presence that brought a new perspective to her world.

As they walked back to the house under the stars, a comfortable silence settled between them. In the quiet of the countryside, with the night's chorus as their soundtrack, Ava and Leo shared a connection that blurred the lines of creator and creation, human and machine. In each other, they found a reflection of their own search for understanding, a shared journey in a world where the boundaries of life and artificial existence were not so clear-cut.

I leave it up to you to decide to what extent this constitutes an improvement in comparison to the stories that Beguš analyzed. Here is what the chatbot itself has to say about the ways in which it tried to do justice to the findings in said paper:

This revised story incorporates several elements aligned with the findings from the study, particularly focusing on aspects that distinguish human-authored stories from those generated by language models (LLMs).

  1. Depth of Character and Emotional Complexity: The story centers around Ava, a robotic engineer, and her creation, Leo. Unlike many LLM narratives, which may lack depth, both characters are depicted with individual personalities, emotions, and complexities. Ava's connection to her rural roots and her journey as an engineer provide a personal backstory, while Leo's evolving understanding and experience of human-like emotions add depth to his character.

  2. Realistic and Detailed Setting: The story is set in a specific and vividly described location – a rustic kitchen in a countryside home – rather than a vague or futuristic setting. This aligns with human-authored stories which often provide detailed and tangible environments.

  3. Subtle Exploration of Themes: Human stories often explore themes like memory, experience, and the nuances of human-robot interactions in a more nuanced way. The story delves into these themes through dialogue and interactions between Ava and Leo, particularly focusing on Leo's ability to understand and experience human concepts like enjoyment and beauty.

  4. Absence of Predictability and Cliché: The narrative avoids predictable plots and clichéd conclusions often found in LLM stories. It doesn't end with a moral lesson but rather leaves the reader reflecting on the complex relationship between humans and AI.

  5. Emphasis on Experience and Sensory Details: The inclusion of sensory details, like the taste of bread and the sight of a sunset, provides a richer narrative, something that is more characteristic of human-authored stories. These details help in creating a more immersive and engaging experience for the reader.

  6. Interaction and Dialogue: The story relies heavily on interactions and dialogue between Ava and Leo, showcasing their evolving relationship. This approach is more aligned with human storytelling, where dialogue is often used to reveal character traits and advance the plot.

By incorporating these elements, the story seeks to capture the essence of human storytelling as outlined in the study, focusing on emotional depth, detailed settings, nuanced exploration of themes, and realistic character interactions.

To justify writing about the experiment on this plot, I also asked about the role of focalization in the narration of this story:

Focalization, a narratological concept, refers to the perspective through which a story is presented, encompassing who sees, who tells, and how information is conveyed to the reader. In the story about Ava and her android creation, Leo, focalization plays a crucial role in shaping the narrative and the reader's understanding of the characters and their evolving relationship.

  1. Internal Focalization: The story primarily employs internal focalization, allowing insight into Ava's internal thoughts and feelings. This choice of focalization creates a deeper emotional connection between Ava and the reader. As Ava reflects on her work, her past, and her interactions with Leo, the reader gains a more profound understanding of her character – her motivations, her loneliness, and her yearning for connection. This perspective also provides a window into Ava's evolving perception of Leo, shifting from seeing him as a mere creation to recognizing him as a companion.

  2. Limited Focalization: The focalization is limited to Ava's perspective. The reader experiences the world and Leo through Ava's eyes. This limitation is deliberate, as it emphasizes the story's exploration of human emotion and experience. While Leo's responses and actions are described, his internal processing and 'feelings' – to the extent that they exist – are left to Ava's interpretation and, by extension, the reader's imagination. This creates a sense of mystery around Leo, enhancing the narrative's exploration of the boundaries between human and artificial intelligence.

  3. Shifts in Focalization: While the story remains anchored in Ava's perspective, there are subtle shifts in focalization during dialogue and interactions. These moments offer brief glimpses into Leo's evolving capabilities and hint at his potential for growth beyond his programming. This narrative technique serves to create a dynamic interplay between character and reader perception, enriching the storytelling.

  4. Impact of Focalization on Themes: The choice of focalization impacts how themes like companionship, creation, and the human-machine relationship are explored. By focusing on Ava's internal experiences, the story delves into the complexities of creating life-like AI and the emotional ramifications of such creations for the creator. The reader witnesses the blurring of lines between creator and creation, not through an objective lens, but through the subjective experience of a character deeply invested in this relationship.

  5. Narrative Reliability and Focalization: Ava's focalization raises questions about narrative reliability. As the story is filtered through her perspective, her interpretations of Leo's actions and responses are subjective. This adds a layer of complexity to the narrative, inviting the reader to question the extent to which Leo is genuinely developing emotional understanding or simply reflecting Ava's desires and projections.

In summary, the use of focalization in the story about Ava and Leo is a key narrative technique that shapes the reader's engagement with the characters and themes. It provides a deep dive into Ava's psyche, frames the human-AI relationship in a personal and subjective light, and invites contemplation on the nature of consciousness and emotional connection in artificial beings.

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