Monday, September 18, 2023

Foolish Consistency: Temporal or Spatial?

I have always been fond of the Emerson quote, "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds". So, I was a little dismayed to discover that I had been misinterpreting his statement. He was referring to temporal consistency, while I assumed spatial.

Emerson thought that if I proclaim some belief or opinion today, and encounter some new information or insight tomorrow, it is small-minded of me to stubbornly hold onto my previous positions. Here is a longer excerpt that makes his point clear.

I've been using it in terms of keeping different things consistent with each other. For example, if there are two places in a document where a thing is being described, I might be foolish to expend effort to ensure the descriptions are letter-for-letter identical. Or maybe I design two API functions that share a parameter, and I ensure the formal parameter names are the same. In both cases, so long as each instance is clear, there may be no real benefit in making the instances consistent, so the effort is foolish. That is not what Emerson was talking about.

So now comes the big question: would it be foolish of me to modify my use of the "foolish consistency" quote to be consistent with the original intent? Or should I feel free to re-purpose it for my use case?

Sunday, September 17, 2023

AI Creativity

 Sorry, if you're bored of my fascination with LLMs, you can skip this one.

I've been using Claude a fair amount for non-coding Q&A, and I've noticed that it produces clever / creative phrasing more often than ChatGPT. For example, I asked it "Is there any hope to talk our way out of this racism? Or is tribalism too deeply engrained in the human psyche?" Within its response was the line:

The moral arc of history bends towards justice, but it requires actively bending it.

I complimented Claude on the line and asked it, "Do you know if that is a quote from somebody? Or did you generate it? (You may not be able to know the difference.)" I liked its response:

That's an insightful quote! After searching, it seems I generated an original variant of the well-known quote by Martin Luther King Jr:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

My phrasing - "The moral arc of history bends towards justice, but it requires actively bending it" - is inspired by and builds upon MLK's iconic wording, but is my own novel wording.

You're right that as an AI system without a comprehensive indexed source of all quotes and sayings, I can't definitively rule out that my phrasing may have been said or written before by someone else. I don't have perfect knowledge of all statements ever made.

But based on my search, I have no evidence that the specific wording "The moral arc of history..." came from any source other than my own AI generated text. I was aiming to put an original spin on MLK's famous line to make a point about moral progress requiring ongoing human effort. But I appreciate you keeping me honest by questioning the source! Feel free to let me know if you do uncover an earlier usage.

My Google search could not find anything close to that, so I'm giving Claude full marks for the clever, creative wording. :-)

And it does make me wonder about AI creativity. Yes, Claude built its creative line on earlier work, but that's true of pretty much every human engaged in creative work. I would not put that line on the level of an Oscar Wilde or a Dorothy Parker, but it's probably better than my own personal bests.