Artificial intelligence can now paint, and write, passably well

Unfortunately for me, technology itself will eventually put me out of a job. Artificial intelligence systems are also pretty good at typing.

This is because they are able to understand the context of a situation and create text that is appropriate for their audience. They can also use their extensive knowledge to generate creative, interesting and humorous ideas.

See what I mean? That last paragraph was created by ParagraphAI, a free app for smartphones and desktop browsers that produces decent prose. It uses the same artificial intelligence software package that drives DALL-E, and works in the same way. Tell ParagraphAI what you want to write about—in this case, how an AI program can write good prose—and it will produce the text.

It’s not Pulitzer worthy, but it’s good enough to fill the early deadline.

DALL-E and ParagraphAI are powered by an AI engine developed by San Francisco-based OpenAI, founded in 2015 by Tesla’s CEO. and Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, among others.

OpenAI is even bigger than Musk’s SpaceX rocket company because it aims to build computer systems that surpass AI and achieve “AGI”. That is artificial general intelligence – machines that can actually think. That’s far from the case, but between Musk and Microsoft, OpenAI has raised more than $2 trillion to tackle the problem. And just look at what he has achieved so far.

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OpenAI is a non-profit research lab, so we play with their toys. The company allows anyone to use DALL-E for free, up to a point. New users get 50 free image creation credits. Each credit can be used to create up to four new images. After that, you can buy more credits when you need them. For example, 115 credits are worth $15.

This Rembrandt-style portrait was created with a few keystrokes using DALL-E, an artificial intelligence image generation system. Hiawatha Bray

Additionally, OpenAI allows outside companies to purchase access to its AI software for resale to the public. That’s ParagraphAI’s business model.

“Our mission is to put AI into everyone’s hands,” said co-founder Kevin Frans, a graduate student in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Based in Toronto and Cambridge, ParagraphAI offers a free version that lets you generate up to 20 texts per day. After that, you can pay $9.95 per month for 150 uses per day. The company offers the service as an easier way for busy people to answer emails or write business reports.

But there is no guarantee that the resulting text will make sense. When I asked for a short essay by Frank Sinatra on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” ParagraphAI wrote it Sinatra was described as “chilling and sympathetic” in a 1948 film version, “considered to be one of the best performances of Macbeth”.

Of course, Sinatra never made a Macbeth movie. A human would have had enough sense to check, but ParagraphAI just put together some plausible-sounding garbage, perfect in spelling and grammar, but completely wrong.

I also got a curious response when I asked ParagraphAI to write about Musk’s recent acquisition of Twitter. “Elon Musk acquired Twitter in April 2013,” the computer replied. “He paid $26 million for the social media platform.” As Frans explained, the data used to train the algorithm is a couple of years old, so the software is not up to date with current events. But that doesn’t explain why he created fake news.

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ParagraphAI warns users to read machine-generated text before using it to make sure it makes sense and that the material hasn’t been accidentally plagiarized from an online source.

DALL also has its faults. Faces are a sore point. They are often distorted and even scary. But the more specific the description of the image you want to be, the more impressive the results will be.

For example, I got decent images when I typed “Boston skyline Thunderstorm”. But I did much better with a “bad 4K image of the Boston skyline as a storm rolls in, in the evening.” DALL responds to dozens of trigger words, such as “disgusting” or “happy.” It also upscaled the resolution to 4K and offered dark sunset lighting. Because I said so.

I can see where this is going. Soon, the world’s best artists will be able to draw the most subtle and challenging text commands for DALL. They will not learn to paint. They will learn to write.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.


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