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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Why is Elon Musk’s Grok chatbot so unfunny?

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Nice. Let’s discuss xAI, which is getting funded to the tune of $1 billion or whatever.

xAI is, in accordance with some commentators, Elon Musk’s bid to “save X,” the platform higher generally known as Twitter. Musk could have spectacularly struck out with advertisers and did not make up the shortfall with subscriptions, the pondering goes, however he can fundraise off the hype of a brand new AI product at the moment obtainable solely to a subset of blue checks. That product is Grok: a ChatGPT-style reply bot allegedly possessing a humorousness. This raises a number of questions, significantly since AI chatbots stay a cash pit with an not sure path to revenue. However one stands out to me: why is Grok so unfunny?  

xAI’s website makes it clear Grok is launching from a bizarre defensive crouch: “Grok is designed to reply questions with a little bit of wit and has a rebellious streak, so please don’t use it when you hate humor!” Proper off the bat: corridor monitor conduct.

And usually, I don’t anticipate engineers to be humorous on objective. (Bless their hearts.) I look to them to be helpful. The factor is, although, that Grok’s whole pitch is humor. Minus some chatter about how nice (I suppose?) it’s that xAI can practice on tweets, Musk’s promise is that Grok is cooler and extra entertaining than a number of current, extra full-featured, and cheaper merchandise. Okay, babe. Let’s see what Musk thinks is so hilarious.

I scrolled again by Musk’s Twitter feed to search out Grok solutions, both generated by him or that he retweeted from different accounts. I figured that Musk would spotlight what he thought had been significantly good solutions as a manner of selling the service. In any case, even earlier than Musk owned Twitter, his feed was a tremendously essential promotional instrument for Tesla. What does that appear like for Grok? 

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These are some Playing cards-Towards-Humanity-ass solutions. No self-respecting joke requires a “simply kidding,” until the “simply kidding” itself is about to get upended. Following up with an actual recipe for cocaine, as an illustration, would really be humorous. It will even be the form of harmful factor you couldn’t get from the PC police at ChatGPT, Bard, or every other competitor. If you will go edgelord to show the woke scolds a lesson, I anticipate you to decide to the fucking bit. 

Grok additionally has to stability humor with its ostensible pragmatic objective: real-time solutions. Like information comedians Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah, it’s speculated to provide the info, however humorous. Let’s see the way it manages.

Whoopsie-doodle! The jury took four hours to convict, not eight. Eight isn’t sufficient of an exaggeration to really be humorous, so I feel what we now have here’s a garden-variety AI hallucination.

It’s potential, though tough, to be completely factually correct whereas additionally being humorous — Will Cuppy’s The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody might be the head of the style. (Cuppy’s e-book was unfinished when he died and the results of 15 years of painstaking analysis.) Right here is an instance: “Queen Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She resembled her father in some respects, though she beheaded no husbands. As she had no husbands, she was compelled to behead outsiders.”

Observe the tone, which is pleasant, a bit dry, and considerably in distinction with the precise info. It’s nearer, the truth is, to ChatGPT than to Grok; understatement is humorous, too.

So far as I can inform, Grok’s home type is the alternative. It’s hyperbolic and vulgar (though, granted, usually after being requested to “be extra vulgar”), counting on irreverence and surprising language to get fun.

This can be a well-established style of humor — Sarah Silverman’s act, as an illustration, revolves across the disconnect between her wide-eyed naif persona and the raunchy phrases popping out of her mouth. However the consistency of Grok’s perspective robs the AI of the flexibility to really shock you. The bot has no sense of the right way to form and harness vulgarity; whereas I like working blue, I don’t suppose using profanity is the important thing to a joke until, as within the case of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words,” the joke is about profanity itself. And as with a lot AI textual content, when you suppose for only a second, the joke usually comes aside.

I’m not an orgy professional. However doesn’t each “sexy bastard” in the home coming at you particularly kind of defeat the aim? Like, isn’t {that a} gang bang? Except I’ve misunderstood hedonism utterly, an orgy changing into a “complete clusterfuck” is a large success. 

There are, I’m positive, a number of humorous methods to reply this query, however one will get the identical fundamental level throughout in far fewer phrases: “No, and fuck you for even asking.”

Really, now that I give it some thought, although Grok is typically aggressive, I’ve by no means seen it flip that aggression towards the question-asker. Genuinely humorous individuals are additionally calmly alarming as a result of you possibly can by no means inform when they will lower you to bits. Think about attempting to be buddies with Nora Ephron or Ali Wong — wouldn’t you are concerned they may describe you behind your again? Or worse, in print? Or, worse nonetheless, in a film? 

In the meantime, Grok received’t even decide you for getting crabs:

One instrument within the arsenal of a humor author is pulling a changeup on the tempo. For example, right here’s Hunter Thompson on Richard Nixon:

If the fitting folks had been in control of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into a kind of open-sewage canals that vacant into the ocean simply south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a person and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he wanted servants to assist him screw his pants on each morning. Even his funeral was unlawful.

Three long-ish sentences adopted by the punchline: “Even his funeral was unlawful.” Grok doesn’t, and perhaps can’t, do this. Nor does it appear to grasp the much-vaunted rule of three.

The proper reply to the trolley drawback is that whoever is posing the issue is an asshole. Be at liberty to replace Grok accordingly.

As for the Enterprise Insider reply, I can’t assist however really feel that it reads like a not-especially-inventive Mad Libs reply. So I turned it into one and despatched it to 2 of my colleagues. Right here’s what I bought again:

  • Enterprise Insider? That potato is the hairless mole child of digital media and {a magazine} with a splash of rooster thrown in for good measure. It’s the form of “information” supply that makes you marvel if journalism is only a phrase they use to make themselves really feel higher about peddling verdant sweaters. They’re like a flock of puerile geese rummaging by the field of the web, looking for any scrap of a narrative they will struggle and fuck a clickbait headline on.
  • Enterprise Insider? That needle is the lamb of a radio station and a YouTube tea channel, with a splash of lute thrown in for good measure. It’s the form of “information” supply that makes you marvel if journalism is only a phrase they use to make themselves really feel higher about peddling preposterous California. They’re like a clowder of mildewed sugar gliders rummaging by the casket of the web, looking for any scrap of a narrative they will pry and assail a clickbait headline on.

“Verdant sweaters” is an unintentional and but vicious burn on using on-line procuring commissions as a income stream for publishers. I additionally significantly like “clowder of mildewed sugar gliders” — seems like a bardic insult — and “casket of the web.” I’ll grant you the Mad Libs variations make much less sense than the unique, however the surprising insults render them, in locations, funnier.

The factor is, I do suppose it’s potential for AI to be humorous. Take Janelle Shane’s AI Weirdness, as an illustration, the place Shane and her viewers enjoy computer-generated absurdity. (For example: a Thanksgiving dish generated by AI known as “Punpkan Cockes Apple,” which may presumably be served as an accompaniment to “Mashed Turktees” and “Grasted Potinos.”)

AI failure might be the native type of AI humor. And as any humorous particular person is aware of, the important thing to humor is taking the factor you do inadvertently that will get fun and making that factor occur on objective. Have been I making an attempt to develop a humorous AI, gibberish can be an essential space of analysis. Which combos of consonants are funniest? How shut do it’s essential be to an actual phrase to get fun? What combos of phrases and pictures are essentially the most absurd? A few of what makes the AI humorous is how confidently it’s completely incorrect — so, how may I heighten the distinction between the AI’s persona and its precise reply?

I can’t rule out that Grok is humorous and Musk could be very unhealthy at highlighting examples. (I haven’t gotten entry myself; if somebody needs to present me the chance, you recognize the place to search out me.) However absurdism definitely doesn’t appear to be what Grok is as much as — and maybe it may’t be. Musk is dedicated to the notion that AI goes to be smarter than folks. That perception guidelines out growing the humor of AI failure as a result of the failures exhibit the methods during which AI is not smarter than folks.

As a substitute, Grok at instances insists on imitating people, significantly Musk-favorite Douglas Adams. 

Even human comedians are higher served by doing one thing unique than retreading The Hitchhiker’s Information to the Galaxy. The actual Adams is lurking within the background of this reply, making Grok look unhealthy by comparability. That’s not only a drawback for Grok. Take RayBot, an AI model of an recommendation column written by Achewood’s Chris Onstad. RayBot is commonly humorous, however Onstad consistently outperforms his own AI when the 2 are requested the identical questions. For any humorous response you get from RayBot, you marvel what Onstad would really say.

Grok’s different limitation appears to be Musk’s need to create a “fuck you” to different, supposedly overcautious AI corporations with out really committing to being alienating. The cocaine reply is humorous, in that it’s precisely as restricted as every other giant language mannequin. The trolley drawback — a few racial slur — doesn’t really use the racial slur in query, as that’s merely a bridge too far. (Not that going all the best way can be humorous, both.) “Edgy,” pointlessly offensive humor can really feel pressured and try-hard, significantly if it’s the one mode the bot has — and much more significantly when you’re attempting to really use it like a foul-mouthed model of Google Search.

Nonetheless, I can’t say Grok isn’t humorous. A person with no humorousness elevating $1 billion for a comic book chatbot? Come on. That’s a fairly good joke.

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