Missing that divine spark; plus, having Bing analyze me

Recently an article at Crisis magazine included an excerpt from the author’s attempt to get an AI to read all of his published articles and reproduce an essay in his style. He was pleased, and I was surprised, but not being too familiar with this author I couldn’t tell if the pedestrian prose was typical of him or not. So, I decided to try Bing out on the imimitable Tony Esolen. I noticed Bing couldn’t do it without crashing, so I did in-progress screenshots.

As far as subject and point go, I’d say that’s….roughly in the neighborhood. Roughly. I can hear Esolen in my head reading something like that, but there’s something in Esolen’s writing that’s not in that text above. Call it soul, call it style, call it a gift for the dramatic, but it’s like seeing a synthetic recreation of a human face, even the eyes, but missing the light within. Here’s the genuine article, the real McCoy:

But when I am in an airport, that most harried image of the eternal tarmac of Hell, crowded without community, noisy without celebration, technologically sophisticated without beauty, and see people engaged in loud conversations not with one another but with a business partner in Chicago or a spouse and children far away, I see not freedom but confinement. And above them all, as if to remind us of our unhappy state, blare the everlasting televisions, telling us What Has Just Happened and What it Means, and preventing us from ever experiencing a moment not of loneliness but of solitude, not of idleness but of peace. It too is a tool of the Anticulture. For culture by its nature is conservative. It remembers, it reveres, it gives thanks, and it cherishes. A farmer tilling the land his father tilled, whistling an air from of old, in the shadow of the church where his people heard the word of God and let it take root in their hearts—that is a man of culture. He might live only fifty years, but he lives them in an expanse of centuries; indeed, under the eye of eternity. How thin and paltry our four score and ten seem by comparison! For we are imprisoned in irreverence. Our preachers are neither the birds nor the old pastor peering over Holy Writ, but the nagging, needling, desire-pricking, noisome voice of the mass educator, or of the headline, or of the television, which could never have won our attention without encouraging in us amnesia, indifference, petulance, and scorn, all destroyers of culture.

I then decided to see if Bing could do me. Absolutely vain, of course, but I wondered self-consciously if my writing has a distinctive style — if there are terms of phrase Bing might associate with me.

Obviously the beginning is spot-on for my review formats (though why Bing thinks The Call of the Wild is only 62 pages I don’t know), but the contents themselves are fairly bland. In a further exercise in vanity, I asked Bing to evaluate me.

I don’t know that anything in that analysis would differentiate my blog from say, that of Classics Considered or Seeking a Little Truth — with the exception being “especially historical fiction and nonfiction”. I tried to press Bing for details, but it became obviously that Bing was mostly pulling from the last month or so, as it declared one of my most-used phrases was ‘into the greenwood’. It declared my vocabulary ‘varied’ and judged that I don’t engage in slang, jargon, or profanity. (The first time I asked Bing to do this, it promptly informed me that the author doesn’t use profanity, and neither does the author use racial slurs like ———” before realizing it was saying naughty things and committing digital hara-kari. ) The lack of profanity is on purpose, of course….the world is graceless enough that I prefer not to add to that, at least in my writing.

Anyhoo. Bing continues to be interesting to use, but I don’t think it can ever replicate genuine human creativity. It can replicate formulaic writing like the SNL “Weekend Update” sketches, but nothing too spontaneous. The search is also obviously limited:

I literally have favorite-author posts. Cornwell is right on, but the rest? I also had Bing guess if I would review The Audacity of Hope favorably or unfavorably, and it declared that as I was a supporter of both McCain and Romney, I would probably not like it. That’s slander and libel of the highest order. I pressed Bing for details and it admitted searching for the name “Stephen” along with those two presidents and using random articles from all over the internet to form an opinion. When I told it to restrain itself to my website, it reported that I appear to avoid controversial topics.

As limited as it is, it’s still weirdly fun to have a robot analyzing my writing.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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2 Responses to Missing that divine spark; plus, having Bing analyze me

  1. This sounded like an interesting experiment. I am tempted to try it myself.

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