When Alan Turing came up with the Turing test, he did not anticipate how cursed the uncanny valley would become, seven decades later. From ELIZA, Cleverbot, Siri to Alexa, we are now living in a world where machine learning is so advanced that some AI have come close to passing the test. Did a human write this? At the time of writing, GPT-3 generates the equivalent of 80,000 books of new content every day; the language model has also helped produce a Guardian article, as well as assist a writer to produce an essay on a topic they couldn’t bring themselves to write. ‘GPT-3 fiction’ is increasingly becoming a genre, the most prominent of that being Sudowrite, an AI-powered creative writing tool. Co-founder Amit Gupta has likened it to deep fakes, ‘but for writing’.
It’s a bit of a vibe. According to Ludwig Yeetgenstein, who interrogates the taxonomy of vibes in Real Life, ‘the vibes framework […] doesn’t give instructions on how we might build them or avoid them in our lives. As an analytic, vibes don’t connect feelings and consequence; as such, it is symbiotic with passive modes of media consumption.’ There may be no clear structures or rules in vibes, but it opens up an arena where the present is always arriving, and where there is no future to be found. Culture ends up getting played like a video game. In this sense, the implication is that you, too, can also win the rat race of content if you chance upon the secret formula. May the winner take all and prosper.
If writing has become a vibes-oriented factory, then it appears that a flat affect and a serviceable style trains readers to project themselves into the text, instead of the other way around. In an essay on Sally Rooney’s much-debated about new novel Beautiful World, Where Are You, Stephen Marche identifies something he calls ‘the literature of the pose’. To him, it is a post-2010 phenomenon where the desire for correctness and immaculate self-presentation reign supreme, creating no room for risk or error. While I do not agree with everything he’s written in that essay, one can say that this is a climate that has produced literature such as Tao Lin’s Taipei, where the boundaries between ‘human’ and ‘robot’ are gamed to the point that they become indistinguishable – what Marche characterises as ‘a rupture in political language’.
This is another clusterfuck in the cultural world(s) we inhabit; I have no answers. Instead, this is a provocation, and we can look to history which can sometimes be illuminating. Guy Debord, in his remixing of Marx and Lukács, offers a clue: ‘the final form of commodity fetishism is the image’. There is no secret formula and the vibe is off!
What if I told you I wrote this essay with Google’s Smart Compose?
I thank my dear friends E, J, F, J and M, and the people who replied to this Twitter thread for helping me to consolidate my thoughts around this essay.