In recent years, everything from CGI to holograms has been used to bring back dead celebrities, typically for monetary gain. From 2Pac Shakur concerts to creepy Peter Cushing, deceased actors and musicians are still getting new roles, but what about dead authors?
Well, students at Oxford Union have decided that the authors of days’ past deserve their shot at resurrection. Using artificial intelligence, four deceased writers were brought back: Jane Austen, Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare.
Deceased authors revived for Oxford Union debate
Each deceased writer’s AI was built to speak exactly like their original counterparts, or at least how many interpret them. For example, while Churchill’s digital resurrection spoke exactly like he did through speeches and interviews, Shakespeare whittled in iambic pentameter. Now, did the author actually speak like that? Or was that merely his writing voice?
The dead authors were revived for a singular purpose: to debate one another. At the most recent Oxford Union debate, the writers were tasked with tackling the motion that ”most of the world’s content will soon be created by AI.”
Via The Times, the historic writers discussed the situation with rather wild — not Wilde, although his AI did compete — manner. Shakespeare’s AI poetically claimed: “We’ll all be free to do the things we love / And leave the dreary work to be done by glove.” This means that humanity will be able to do whatever it wants whilst AI toils away, a sentiment that capitalism would not allow.
Winston Churchill’s AI was said to be the most convincing of the four. The digital incarnation of the dead Prime Minister spoke as if he was reciting another of his memorable speeches:
“My fellow citizens, I stand before you today to talk about a grave threat to our society. I’m talking about the threat of artificial intelligence . . . We must resist this threat. We must fight back. We must stand up for our right to think for ourselves. We must defend our right to control our own minds.”
Similarly, Oscar Wilde’s contribution to the debate was also related to his prior work. In this instance, the AI created a new scene from The Importance of Being Earnest to discuss the motion. It reads as so:
Lady Bracknell: I really cannot see what you are all making such a fuss about. It is perfectly simple. The world’s content will soon be created by AI and there is nothing that can be done about it.
Gwendolyn: But Mama, you cannot be serious!
The speaking voice versus the writing voice
One of the many issues with artificial intelligence is bias, an always-present part of every AI dataset. For some programs, like controversial facial recognition software Clearview, that bias can be racial, leading to dangerous situations. For something as playful as this, that bias is the authors’ own works.
The datasets for Austen, Churchill, Wilde and Shakespeare are clearly based on their published works and speeches, not their everyday speech. For example, Shakespeare’s everyday speech wouldn’t have been poetry; he would’ve been intolerable and impossible to understand.
The same goes for Oscar Wilde. With all of his beloved works, the writer wouldn’t simply create a scene in which his characters discuss the motion at hand during a debate. As for Winston Churchill… well, he might’ve decided to speak as if he was in a speech, but he was also very full of himself.
There’s a huge difference between the personality of speech and the personality of writing. Neil Gaiman’s tweets are written differently from his books and his books are constructed differently than his speech. The written voice is a lot like acting; you wouldn’t expect Bryan Cranston to debate as if he was Walter White.