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Artist builds GPT-3 typewriter that replies to you on paper


The Ghostwriter is an “artifact from the past” powered by a text-generating language model from OpenAI.

Interaction designer and artist Arvind Sanjeev has repurposed a vintage Brother electric typewriter to slowly type back responses to user prompts on paper.

“I realized how slowing down technology can radically bring out all its quirks and nuances, which fast digital interactions would otherwise hide,” he told Cybernews in an email.

In a Twitter thread, Sanjeev explained that he had spent “a lot more time than [he] should have” on the worn-out typewriter, dedicating his weekends to giving the machine a facelift and retrofitting it with modern hardware.

Inside the Ghostwriter are an Arduino board and a Raspberry Pi single-board computer. Arduino reads user prompts entered through a keyboard and shares it with Raspberry Pi, which in turn connects to GPT-3.

It then sends back the response from the chatbot to Arduino, which prints it on paper.

Machine poems

Sanjeev has compiled some of his favorite creations into a zine he called Ghostwriter Poetry. These range from a love letter to a human called Emma to an apology written on behalf of Kanye West for being anti-semitic.

Others include a poem in a made-up Dothraki language from the Game of Thrones, which Sanjeev said was an “incredible” illustration of GPT-3 generating a fictional language, and step-by-step instructions for making a time-traveling machine.

“I like this one because the AI tried to make sure that people also have an escape plan in case they get stuck in a time they can’t get back from,” Sanjeev said.

His favorite response, however, was to a prompt to write a critically acclaimed poem about pooping in the toilet. One verse describes the process as a “fascinating force” and a “swirl of pleasure.”

“The AI knew what it was talking about,” Sanjeev said.

Opportunity to reflect

The rise of new AI products can feel overwhelming, Sanjeev said, and he built the Ghostwriter as “an intervention” to take a moment and reflect on a new creative relationship emerging between a human and a machine.

Bridging the old and the new, the project could also serve as an introduction to AI for those less aware of the latest advancements in the technology, Sanjeev said.

“The Ghostwriter's slow-typed responses make people meditatively read each word one after the other, thus creating opportunities to think, reflect, inspire, and create fresh perspectives,” he said.

The choice of a vintage typewriter as a medium for an AI expression has resonated with Twitter users, who described the Ghostwriter as “rad” and “stunning” under Sanjeev’s detailed threads documenting the creative process behind the project.

“People trust typewriters and feel comfortable with them because they know their sole purpose is to create stories on paper. This is contrary to today's technology, black boxes that try to propagate unethical business models based on the attention economy,” Sanjeev said.

“It is an artifact from our past, a world where technology was more physical and mindful of people's lives,” he noted.


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