Rock Me Baby, ’til My Feet Come Off

Very early in our relationship, Debra and I got silly one night and were making fun of country music. I don’t know what prompted it but at some point I came up with a song title: “Rock Me Baby, ’til My Feet Come Off.” We couldn’t stop laughing. I know, it was one of those, “you had to be there” moments.

That was 30 years ago and I still think that somebody should come up with lyrics. It could be a hit!

I’ve been poking at Microsoft’s Bing Chat (powered by ChatGPT) and Google’s Bard recently, so I thought I’d see what they can do with that title. My prompt to each one was ‘write lyrics for a country song called “Rock Me Baby, ’til My Feet Come Off“.

Bing Chat

Here’s a country song called “Rock Me Baby, ’til My Feet Come Off”:

Verse 1: I’ve been working all day long My feet are tired and my back is sore I need someone to take me home And rock me baby, ’til my feet come off

Chorus: Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off Hold me tight and never let me go Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off And I’ll love you more than you’ll ever know

Verse 2: I’ve been waiting for this moment To hold you close and feel your love I need someone to take me home And rock me baby, ’til my feet come off

Chorus: Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off Hold me tight and never let me go Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off And I’ll love you more than you’ll ever know

Bridge: I don’t need no fancy things Just your love is all I need So come on baby, take my hand And rock me baby, ’til my feet come off

Chorus: Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off Hold me tight and never let me go Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off And I’ll love you more than you’ll ever know

Outro: Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off.

Google Bard

(Verse 1) Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off
I’m so tired, I can’t stand no more
I’ve been working all day, and I’m beat
Just rock me baby, and make me feel complete

(Chorus) Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off
I’m so tired, I can’t sleep at night
I just lay there and toss and turn
And dream of being rocked in your arms

(Verse 2) Rock me baby, ’til my troubles are gone
I’m so worried, I can’t catch my breath
I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I don’t know what to do
Just rock me baby, and make all my troubles new

(Chorus) Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off
I’m so tired, I can’t sleep at night
I just lay there and toss and turn
And dream of being rocked in your arms

(Bridge) Rock me baby, ’til I can’t feel my bones
I’m so worn out, I’m just about gone
But I know that if you rock me long enough
I’ll be all better, and I’ll be able to go on

(Chorus) Rock me baby, ’til my feet come off
I’m so tired, I can’t sleep at night
I just lay there and toss and turn
And dream of being rocked in your arms

(Outro) Rock me baby, ’til the morning light
I’m so tired, I can’t see the night
Just rock me baby, and make me feel all right
I’ll be your baby, and you’ll be my knight

Well of course they’re terrible. But then, it’s country music.

I don’t think music writers have anything to worry about quite yet . . .

No, AI won’t take your job

I can’t tell how serious writers and actors are about their concerns with AI. They’re asking for some unspecified safeguards on the use of AI, or regulations, or something. In general, some language to assure them that their jobs will not be taken over by “AI.”

I think it’s ridiculous, but perhaps I’m attributing to the writers and actors things that have been overblown by the media or by the general public’s hysterical reaction to anything that somebody calls “AI.” Or algorithms in general. As far as all too many people are concerned, any “algorithm” is automatically evil and out to do us harm.

I base my ridicule on three things. First, people have been protesting new technology since the dawn of new technology. Two hundred years ago, the original Luddites destroyed equipment in textile mills in protest of automation, but they weren’t the first to protest automation. Strangely enough, the machines didn’t put them out of work. And yet protests against automation were common throughout the industrial revolution and continue to this day. Computers, for example, were going to put armies of clerical workers out of a job. But now, 70 years into the computer revolution, there are more clerical jobs than ever. There are cases in which automation has made certain jobs irrelevant, but it doesn’t happen overnight. And there continues to be need of the replaced skill for some time.

Second, the idea of artificial intelligence replacing a journalist, screenwriter, actor, programmer, or any other skilled human is laughable. As I’ve mentioned before, ChatGPT (which I think is what has gotten everybody up in arms) and similar tools are just mimics: they rearrange words in a blender and spit them out semi-randomly, following rules that dictate the form, but with no regard to substance. And that’s just regurgitating stuff that’s already known. Attempts at AI creativity–having the computer create something novel–are comically terrible. The idea of a generative AI replacing a human writer just isn’t realistic. Certainly not within my lifetime, and likely not within the lifetime of anybody born today.

Third, if somebody does develop an AI that can produce objectively better news stories, movie scripts, novels, acting performances, computer programs, etc. than a human, then more power to them! As long as I’m informed or entertained, I don’t particularly care who or what created the article or the performance. We all benefit from better expression of ideas, and those whose skills are better performed by artificial intelligence will either find something else to do that is not yet AI-dominated, or will be able to peddle their skills in a smaller and often more lucrative market. For certain, any actor who’s pushed out of the big studios by this future fanciful AI will have plenty of opportunity in smaller studios that can’t afford or don’t want to use AI technologies.

Yes, there is some justifiable concern that studios will use currently available techniques, and new techniques going forward, to unscrupulously manipulate an actor’s voice, image, or performance to say things that the actor never intended or agreed to. We’ve all seen those agreements that allow the companies to use our likeness in any way, shape, or form, in perpetuity. Those types of clauses should have been eliminated from contracts decades ago, and I support those who are trying to address that situation now. But beyond that, the fears about AI replacing skilled workers, especially skilled creatives, are unfounded.

Translation difficulties

I get it: translation is hard. Heck, I’m a reasonably bright native English speaker and often have difficulty translating my own thoughts into understandable English.

This is a message that was posted in a woodcarving group:

“Hello, I am writing a message to help my father. And I see myself. Only on the American or Canadian woodcarving site and no response. It’s just for the books. And politeness. It’s when it’s repetitive that it’s not funny. But you how many millions to be connected. I find that very embarrassing. Administrators must take their jobs seriously. I have already reported them, I pass the imfermire contest as if I was going to sew up a person at any time, have a nice day everyone.”

The author’s native language is, I think, Italian. Or perhaps French. I suspect not an English speaker, although it’s possible that his grasp of English is better than my grasp of his native language. I cannot tell if the message is the result of automatic translation, or if the author did the translation himself with the help of a Italian-to-English dictionary. Either way, I cannot make any sense of it.

Which is weird. I’ve seen bad translations before. But usually I can get the gist of a message that’s been automatically translated: a “hook” that gives me a broad idea, and from there puzzle out a few details. For example, the word “imfermire” in the above text looked promising. It looks like a misspelling of the Italian word “infermiere,” meaning “nurse.” The best I can guess is that the author is having trouble getting some woodcarving books for his father. Not sure where the nurse comes in.

The author’s responses to comments provide no useful information. Which isn’t too much of a surprise. I imagine he has to translate the question, then write and translate a response. The combined errors inherent in that process aren’t conducive to understanding. Automatic translation software is especially bad at round-tripping because errors accumulate very quickly.

Can the technology that powers the new crop of generative AIs be put to good use in the automatic translation space? I imagine feeding an Italian-to-English translation to a tool that can leverage its knowledge of translation errors and spit out a short and meaningful summary. Is such a tool within our grasp?

Ask an AI: whittling or wood carving?

A friend of mine asked a generative AI (Nova: Powered by ChatGPT & GPT 3.5 Turbo) about the difference between whittling and wood carving. This is the response she got:

Wood carving and whittling have been practised for thousands of years, dating back to ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and Greeks. The early humans used wood carving to make various objects like weapons, tools, utensils, and figurines.

It is believed that the practice of carving wood began as an extension of the use of stone tools, as people realized that wood was a more versatile material than stone. Over time, wood carving became a widely practiced art form, with artisans developing diverse styles and techniques.

Whittling, on the other hand, is a type of wood carving that involves using a knife to remove a small amount of wood from a larger piece. It is believed to have originated in Europe during the Middle Ages, where it was primarily used to make simple household objects like wooden spoons, bowls, and cups.

Whittling gained popularity in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it became a popular hobby for colonists and pioneers. Today, wood carving and whittling remain popular artistic expressions, and practitioners continue to develop new styles, techniques, and forms.

This reminds me of something a not-very-bright fourth grader would turn in after consulting the encyclopedia and visiting the local branch library. Bad paraphrasing of randomly selected factual (or maybe not) statements strung together into paragraphs that are tenuously cohesive and sometimes self-contradictory. With a little fluff thrown in to show that it really was the student’s work. The student would receive a “C” for such work if the teacher were especially kind and impressed with the diligent research, good spelling (although there’s that curious use of “practised” rather than “practiced”), and penmanship.

That said, the article does answer the question: whittling is a type of wood carving. The rest of the article is mostly gibberish, sprinkled as it is with unsupported factual statements, uninformed speculation, and known falsehoods. But whittling really is a type of wood carving.

Exactly what constitutes whittling is an open question. Merriam-Webster defines “whittle” as a transitive verb:

1a. to pare or cut off chips from the surface of (wood) with a knife
1b. to shape or form by so paring or cutting
2.  to reduce, remove, or destroy gradually as if by cutting off bits with a knife

By that definition, whittling is wood carving done with a knife. If you are carving wood with a knife, you are whittling. According to the dictionary. But that definition is not universally accepted. If you ask five wood carvers the difference, you’re going to get at least five answers. In my experience, most of those answers are of the “I know it when I see it” variety. Some say that it has to do with the level of planning involved. But everybody’s line is set differently. To some, anything more complex than a sharpened stick is “carving.” To others, anything carved from a stick found on the ground is “whittling.” Some put a time limit on it. Others base their judgement on the quality or purpose of the final product. My primitive carved knives and forks might be “whittling,” for example, but my friend’s beautifully carved and decorated (all using just a knife) replica dagger is a “carving.”

I like the dictionary definition. All the other definitions implicitly and sometimes not so implicitly make value judgements that amount to “whittling is just passing time, whereas carving is creating something of value.”

In any case, I’d be interested to know if anybody would find the AI-generated response to be anything other than gibberish. Elementary and secondary educators should be exposing students to this type of answer and pointing out the obvious flaws (unsupported and contradictory statements, wandering paragraphs, etc.) so that students can learn to spot them. It’ll be a while (decades, at least) before these generative AIs can write a freshman term paper that would get past an instructor who’s paying attention. It’s probably a good idea to be able to spot AI-generated content so you don’t make the mistake of depending on it.