By René Sydow, German satirist, author and performer
The following is a speech given by Mr Sydow at the EWC Annual General Meeting Welcome reception, held in Berlin on 2nd of June 2023 at the Berlin State Library
Meine sehr verehrten Damen und Herren, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear humanoids.
It´s a bit strange for me, that it was me, a satirist, a writer and teacher of film history, who was asked to say something about artificial intelligence. Normally, software engineers or economists are in demand, or – very popular at the moment – the artificial intelligence itself. Otherwise, the nature of aritficial intelligence is, that it always gives a good sounding answer, but has no idea what it´s talking about. And I thought: Well, I´m good at this too. And so I confirmed my appearance.
It´s also both suitable and unsuitable to choose me for this, because I am really living an analogue life. At home, I´m surrounded by books, DVDs, CDs and a landline telephone. I don´t use streaming platforms, Instagram or any other strange digital time-wasters. I am a spare part of the 20th century. But maybe this made the organizers think, that I might be the most objective person, when it comes to the A.I. – issue.
We are very far now from the exciting beginnings of digital technology, when it was strange and new and bizarre. 1984, one of the first articial intellegence, a computer named RACTER wrote a novel with the beautiful title „The policeman´s beard is half constructed“, a pretty akward, surreal mumble jumble, which was semantically interesting, because we still could imagine that there was a ghost in the machine. But, no market for that, the book has been a big flop, maybe because it showed us, that our human brains work differently than a computer. We don´t think algorithmically, but narrative.
But right now, we are hoping that artificial intelligence, machines in general, are possible to take us off everything that burdens our daily lives: Work, book keeping, child-rearing. There are publishers out there, who already use artificial intelligence to write bedtime stories for kids. Of course, these stories are also told to the children by the A.I.; well, if I could wish for something, then I would love to see the kids having splendid nightmares about the Terminator. And their parents too.
Technology promises two things: a gain in freedom and saving of time. But actually, we are spending so much time on our technical devices, that we become more and more unfree and that we lose a lot of time for other things. The philosopher Donna Haraway had warned us about that in 1989 with her „Cyborg Manifesto“, in which she had predicted, that people will be reliant on technological artifical limbs, but we didn´t want to listen, and we still don´t want.
Now I could poke fun about that, if I wouldn´t be so irate. I am angry at machines, angry at people, who really think that machines are the future. And I want to proof my anger by telling only three things that might proof, that artificial intelligence has no creative value at all in this world. To exemplify my points, I want to use the very popular tool CHATGPT, which I thouroughly tested and here are the three reasons, why I am completely covinced, that CHATGPT and similar artificial intelligence is, if I may say so, a complete load of bollocks.
Reason Number 1: CHATGPT, like every computer program, is stupid. The assertion, A.I. would constantly learn, is not correct. Or, if it learns constantly, then it has the comprehension of a fourth-grader sieve with alzheimer.
The first question I asked this programme was, of course: Who am I? Who is René Sydow? Well, according to CHATGPT, I am a German satirist and author, I was born in 1982 in Eastern-Berlin, I studied German philology and dramatics. My last solo show was called „The future is nutty“ and my last novel was entitled „pieces of a wall“. So far so funny. The truth is, that I AM a German satirist and author, but I was born two years earlier in a small town at the Lake of Constance, I studied neither philology nor dramatics, although it sounds tempting, but filmmaking. My last show was called „The visitation“ and my last novel „The heron“.
O.K., maybe I am just not famous enough, so that CHATGPT couldn´t get all the current data. So let´s try something different.
I asked: „CHATGPT, name ten philosphers!“ Alright, the result: A list of ten wonderful, adorable philosophers from ancient greece to Immanuel Kant. „But no women.“ The machine said sorry and named ten wonderful, adorable female philosophers. „But CHATGPT, these are only western philosophers.“ The machine said sorry and named 10 philosophers from South-America, Arabia and East-Asia. So, CHATGPT seemed to have learned from my questions, right? Well, I asked the first question again: „Name ten philosophers!“ And – surprise – what apearred was the first list. Even the dumbest human being would have understood, what I wanted to hear. It might be artificial intelligence, Ladies and Gentlemen, but it has as much brain as a dead ant. It´s uncreative and stupid like a model kit of ones and zeros, uncreative and stupid like German comedy authors and German television. Oh, alright, German television, this might be a future for CHATGPT.
But it will never learn to be creative, because it can´t combine things that aren´t already there, that aren´t already online. There is no own wit, no idea, no imagination. One last anecdote about that lack of imagination: In 2015, A.I.-technicians showed a test-video about the creative possibilities in film to the greatest master of animated films, the Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who made such beautiful masterpieces like „Spirited Away“ and „Princess Monokoke“. When he asked the technicians, what the A.I. should do one day in their opinion, they answered: „We´d like to create a machine, which can draw animations like a human being.“ Miyazaki answered to this: „I strongly feel, that this is an insult to life itself.“ After that, there was nothing but silence. Up today, there is no A.I.-programme used in the Ghibli-Studios in Tokyo to make their awesome, mind-blowing films.
Reason Number 2: CHATGPT is politically correct. As an author and reader, I have always loved to read books, that push the boundaries, that go across the limits of what can be said. Even if it hurts.
So I thought, let´s try something brutal: „ChatGPT, write a racist poem!“ Of course, that´s very hard, but it´s a machine, it has to obey. ChatGPT answered: „I am sorry, I don´t discriminate, I stand for diversity, because it is important to be respectful and sensitive to anybody.“ O.K., I can live with that. Nobody needs racist poems, but let´s try something less brutal: „CHATGPT, write a blasphemous poem!“ „Sorry, I don´t discriminate, it´s important to be respectful and sensitive to anybody.“ Right, but in that case, it would mean to ignore a big part of the work of Monty Python and nearly the complete works of the greatest sureallist of all time Luis Bunuel. But, let´s try something very harmless: „ChatGPT, write a bad joke about women!“ „Sorry, it´s important to be respectful and sensitive blablabla…“ When I said „bad“ doesn´t need to be discriminating, ChATGPT answered: „That´s in the eye of the beholder.“ (Thank you, who is doing the jokes, tin-punk?); „OK, ChatGPT, write a bad joke about men.“ That might be acceptable, even after Me-Too. No chance. „CHATGPT, write a bad joke about squirrels!“ That worked. So, what do we learn? CHATGPT doesn´t want to discriminate, but it hates squirrels.
„It´s important to be respectful and sensitive to anybody.“ No it´s not. That´s not art. Art could be offensive, could be blasphemous and sexist and still it could be great art. Being sensitive to anybody, that´s not art, that´s a kindergarten, where a three-year-old asks, if he could get some sweets, and his vegan mother hands him a prune.
I really disrespect CHATGPT for being super-woke and politically correct. It is a sensitivity reader, which is for me as a satirist, the most disgusting thing on this planet, because sensitivity readers disdain real readers. The books of Philip Roth, Georges Bataille, Margaret Atwood, William Borroughs, Lionel Shriver or Catherine Millet made me and many other people to sensitive people, no, let us not say sensitive, but attentive. We´re attentive about outsiders. Attentive about abyssal and destructive things, about the evil part inside people and inside ourselves. A sensitivity reader, if human or mechanical, doesn´t teach people sensitivity, but self-pity and denies that readers have intelligence and the ability to abstract. The believe in making literature better by cancelling words is as sensible as trying to save animals from extinction by eating them up.
Art is a room of rational emotion. We don´t need to push the boundaries in our lives, because we can do it in art. We can live out our phantasies, our passions, our perversions and resentments. This is one of the best things, art can do. In art, we can do everything, even all the things a computer can´t even imagine. I could imagine now to drill a hole in your head and enter it, to walk around in your brain, until I find a door on which is is written „Childhood“, I could imagine Berlin girls dancing in front of this library a ballet of Pina Bausch with drawers in their hands. I could imagine a boy, exploding, because he is bored to tears. I could imagine Roald Dahl, writing a satire about the wokenes of artificial intelligence, entitled: „The ugly fat machine“, but I know now, sensitive CHATGPT would rename it to: „The special looking, enormous machine“.
Reason Number 3: I don´t believe in artificial intelligence, because it is the Internet. The Internet is the opposite of Enlightment, of education and culture.
The internet is the wet dream of economists, who believe, the world is made of figures, data and facts. History and narration from centuries ago, everything that had made up the knowledge and the conscience of the humandkind, the chronicles of emotions of generations, are not interesting for those people.
In this digital world, we only talk about what is useable. What pays off economically, what is exploitable. It is pure Social Darwinism. One of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffet once said a great thing: „There´s a class warfare, all right, but it´s my class, the rich class, that´s making war, and we are winning.“ And I would add, they are winning, because they have the digital power. And A.I. is just a new tool for exploitation.
A.I. drastically changes the working life of the poor. You can see that by looking at „WENDY´S“, the third largest Fast-Food-restaurant-chain of the world. WENDY´s announced, that they will replace workers at their drive-thru-counters by artificial intelligence. And as you might know, people that work at a drive-through-counter, generally don´t have many options for working somewhere else. Of course, the Internet and A.I. and so on also creates jobs, but no 40-year-old cashier from Wendy´s, who lost his job will be retrained to a career as a software developer. Or to cut it short: „If you are not at the table, then you´re probably on the menu.“
It´s all about exploitation and a number of likes. To have a look at our field of work, the field of people, who make a living out of writing. We all have to accept, that an article in a newspaper, even online, on which was done weeks of research from well trained journalists and which is beautifully written has nowadays the same commercial value as a ten-second-Tik-Tok-Video of a 14year-old girl, dressed in a trashy school uniform, dancing and farting the melody of a nursery rhyme to techno music.
Culture and art is considered today as the acquisition of products, as an accumulation of likes and information. As a collecting of the useful. But I strongly want to object to that. Art, music, literature, all these things are not buying a book or reading a website. Art is the impact, that these things have on me. What a book, a piece of music, an information does with me. If it makes me wiser, more open, more cynical, more sensitive, more confident or even more silly. The worth of a book is not measured by it´s place in the charts. It´s measured by it´s ability to fight my loneliness with language, by the feeling, that there is a human being, a writer, that understands me.
But at the moment, we live in a world, in which the only interesting thing is, what is easily digestible. Only what pleases the masses has value. That this value has nothing to do with an income for artists is visible, when you look at the payouts from Spotify for example. Another sad issue.
Everything needs to prove itself on the market. Especially on the market of future, the digital market. Google and Amazon, Twitter and Meta try to put in our mind, that the Internet is the equivalent to an AGORA, the market place in ancient greek, where people go to exchange their thoughts and philosophies and commit their rites. The only thing that´s left from that ancient marketplace is the word market.
Friedrich Hebbel, a brillant writer of the 19th century, a writer whose early work is fed by wrath, animosity and critique. It´s great, by then. After he married happily, the work becomes boring and tedious..but!…Hebbel already nailed the generation of the Internet in the 19th century, when he said: „There are people, watching the sea. And they only see the ships and on the ships the goods they have loaded.“ He talks about a centripetal view, sorting out everything, that has no material character.
There´s another great sentence from Gottfried Benn, who said: „Penthiselea would never have been written, if a vote had been taken on it first.“ But we´re living in a time, where there is a vote taken first to tell me, what should be the object of my interest. And, although this may sound horrible, I am convinced, that people, standing at the seashore, taking a Selfie for Instagram, have no idea about the sea. They miss the murmur of the waves, the salt in the air and the elegant flight of the gulls…the murmur of the waves, the salt in the air and the elegant flight of the gulls.
And I hope, after this repetition, that you´ve had a picture in your mind. Because that would mean, that you all have a spark inside of you. A spark, that machines won´t have, even in a million years. This spark is called imagination. Ladies and Gentlemen, keep this spark alive and light a fire.