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There’s nothing artificial about the pure joy of Cork/Kerry rivalry

February 27th, 2023 11:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

There’s nothing artificial about the pure joy of Cork/Kerry rivalry Image

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‘Why did the Cork man refuse to watch the Kerry v  Cork football match? 

Because he heard it was a corker of a game!’

Before you go writing a letter of complaint to my editor about the falling standards of humour in this column, I should explain that the above joke was not written by yours truly, the humanoid comedy writer who happens to have the same name as the famous novelist, but by ChatGPT, the new artificial intelligence (AI) ‘conversation bot’ taking the internet by storm in recent weeks.

I’m not sure if it’s the first instance of artificial intelligence making a contribution to The Southern Star. If so, I wish to apologise profusely for opening the floodgates. 

Latest developments in this sort of software suggest we may be on the cusp of an Anthropocene age in ‘thinking’ computer systems. This will likely have profound effects on the workforce, and on how we interact with the internet, and it could well open up a lot of very tricky conversations about how powerful we would wish this new technology to become.

It still can’t write a decent joke, though.

The reason I’m even on ChatGPT in the first place is pretty simple. I’m absolutely wrecked with jet lag after last week’s travels and my brain is cranking to a halt as I write, so I was kinda hoping that maybe the robots can write this week’s article for me. It’s worth a shot, right? 

On the evidence of the Cork v Kerry joke, it looks like it’ll be a while yet before I can subcontract the column entirely. 

The premise of the software is pretty simple. ChatGPT appears in your browser as a blank chat window which invites you to task the AI with writing some text of your choosing. It could be lines of computer code designed to automate some email-related talks; or a short sonnet about piglets in Bantry; or better still, Monday morning’s English essay. 

The results are often creepily good. The robots have become so sophisticated in general information retrieval and reproduction that universities are now struggling to deal with the deluge of AI-generated assignments handed in by students who feck off to the campus bar while the poor AI burns the midnight oil churning out essays on their behalf. I know I certainly would have done this back in the day.

Suddenly, a Leaving Cert which mostly involves vomiting a load of learned-by-rote facts onto a page in ridiculously time-constrained circumstances hardly feels fit for purpose, especially if AI can spit out that information ad infinitum, often in a way that is barely discernible from a real human.

Still, you get the sense there are human attributes the bots will not be able to mimic. 

When I instructed ChatGPT’s to ‘write a joke about the Cork Kerry rivalry’ its objectively brutal effort at a gag would suggest there is a future for some of us skin-and-bone writers after all, and perhaps we won’t be put out to work on the robot slave farms just yet.

But then again, that’s exactly what a near-sentient AI bot, hell-bent on taking over the world and enslaving humanity, would write as a closing sentence in a paragraph like this. (Cue spooky music)

Here comes the PC Twits

LIKE most people of my generation, I grew up enthralled and amused by the surreal, outrageous, characterful and always entertaining books of Roald Dahl.

His stories still hold a very important place in my heart – I can still remember how utterly immersed I was in the worlds of the Twits, the BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox and countless others, as I worked my way through them in Clon library back in the 1980s. 

What a gift for a kid, to be able to explore these kaleidoscopic, always naughty, and sometimes slightly dangerous landscapes and their casts of colourful and unforgettable characters. It was pure joy and I’m delighted to see my kids are just as enthralled by them today.  

And so I was really annoyed last week when I read that Puffin Books, with the approval of the Roald Dahl estate, has begun changing various sections of the author’s original text, in order to remove passages deemed offensive by modern standards. Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now described as ‘enormous’ instead of ‘enormously fat’. The Cloud-Men in James And The Giant Peach have become Cloud-People. 

The publisher and the estate say their guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text.

While anybody can see that the language in some sections of Dahl’s books is problematic, and he expressed some particularly toxic antisemitic sentiments, it begs the question – once you start editing history, where do these revisions stop? 

Are the religious undertones of The Lord of the Rings to be removed because CS Lewis was a devout Christian and these themes could be deemed offensive to other religions? How about the language used regarding persons of colour in the Huckleberry Finn books, particularly the racist rants by Huck’s father Pap? Should they be airbrushed out completely? Will the Harry Potter books even be allowed in school libraries in the future, given the onslaught against JK Rowling over her position on trans rights?

I think, rather than rewriting history, a far more mature and considered approach would be to put some context for Dahl’s problematic views in the forward of the books, rather than mess with the original text without the author’s approval. Wouldn’t it be far preferable to present the text as it was, and offer up the more problematic sections as a point of discussion for children to discuss? Do we not think kids are capable of this? Or do we want to just deny them any opportunity to confront the reality of the world altogether?

Here’s Lent, so I’m off! 

I’VE been thinking of giving Lent a proper go this year. I’m getting to that stage in my life where I’m growing tired and suspicious of the constant flood of fad diets and fasting apps from Silicon Valley. Noom, Atkins, the Five-Two plan, the Stand On Your Head Every Morning For Half An Hour Before Eating Your Breakfast diet ....  As I get older, I can now see that there’s a lot to be said for loading up on pancakes in Shrove Tuesday then heading out into the metaphorical, Tayto-free desert for 40 days and 40 nights of good, old-fashioned biblical deprivation. So it’s no bread for me on weekdays. No crisps or salty snacks for a month. Hippy tea and dry biscuits in the evenings – that’ll be as exotic as it gets. And there will be absolutely no chocolate. 

Except for Sundays obviously. Sunday is a cheat day. Or at least that’s what I think it says in the Bible. 

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