I was just granted access to Bard.Google.com the social media giant’s competitive product to ChatGPT. I’ve been trying a few things to see how it reacts. The usual Blade Runner-inspired approaches to testing the AI systems seem also rans so I thought I’d try a different tact with a unique prompts and see where it took me.
“Reverse chronology” is a very difficult literary device to pull off. Very few works of art can claim popular status in this approach. Think “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or Christopher Nolan’s film “Memento” or — my favorite — Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” So I gave 4 different AI writing tools the task with this prompt.
Write me a short story about a caterpillar who grows up to be a butterfly but the story is composed in reverse chronology with a sad ending.
The full stories are below but here’s my brief summary and analysis:
- ChatGPT 3.5: tries the classic “yup… that’s me.” with the butterfly dying on the ground and then fills in the reverse chronology with “before that” and “and then…” It’s a pedestrian attempt and you can almost hear “Baby O’riley” cue but its not worth reading twice.
- Bard: Enter the newcomer. The response was wicked fast but the outcome was pretty much a fail. The butterfly quickly gets morphed back into a caterpillar (mistakenly) captured by a boy who feels bad about killing the caterpillar (confusing). The boy buries the caterpillar/butterfly which is nice gesture and then, without warning, it offers up an alternate story with a “happier ending” where the boy gets to witness the transformation. Weird.
- Bing: Sadness pervades the dying butterfly and the reverse chronology never really takes hold. Instead it relies on memories as a main mechanism for calling on the caterpillar.
- ChatGPT 4: Wow. This one really amazed me. It actually found a motivating moment for a reverse chronology: “As it soared over the grass, it recalled the moment it emerged from its chrysalis, the thrill of spreading its wings for the first time.” The butterfly’s wings shrink and it moves into a chrysalis. The seasonal changes mirror the reversing story and the bug finally succumbs. The ending was pretty poignant too “The…