WASHINGTON (AP) — If you’ve heard it once in a president's State of the Union speech, you’ve heard it 100 times: There is nothing the American people can’t do when they pull together.
But you haven’t heard that thought in a State of Union address from William Shakespeare: “Lo,” said the bard. “With kindness, love, and understanding clear, we shall conquer all, and have naught to fear.”
Nor from the noggin-knocking Three Stooges of last century's fame: “We just put our heads together, come up with a plan, and bam! Problem solved!”
Let's face it, State of the Union speeches are mostly rote. Presidents roll out a list of accomplishments, a few anecdotes about guests in attendance, a sober assessment of the problems of the day and a crescendo about glory times ahead.
To shake up the formula before President Joe Biden's speech to Congress on Tuesday night, The Associated Press instructed the artificial intelligence program ChatGPT to work up State of the Union speeches as they might have been written by some of history's greatest minds as well as some stooges.
AP ordered up 300-word versions, in contrast to Biden's sprawling 6,400 words last year, and tapped a few people so iconic we know them by only one name. The virtual Greek philosopher Aristotle gracefully quoted Socrates, Cleopatra the historic Egyptian ruler asked for the blessing of the gods, Madonna cited her perspective as a mother and a woman in the entertainment industry.
ChatGPT was also asked to channel singer Elvis Presley, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, the ground-breaking NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, Tesla and Twitter CEO Elon Musk, the abolitionist Sojourner Truth, and baseball's Yogi Berra, among other luminaries.
We also wanted to see what a bright, unidentified 10-year-old might say to the assembled lawmakers.
The app is part of a new generation of AI systems that can converse in human-like fashion and generate text on demand based on what they’ve learned from a vast database of digital books, online writings and other media. It petrifies teachers who fear their students will use it instead of their brains for school papers.
ChatGPT rendered Shakespeare's State of the Union speech in rhyme, scrolling on the screen faster than anyone could read it. The version channeling comedian Jerry Seinfeld captured his verbal mannerisms and signature phrasings.
“I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I’ve realized that the state of our union is like a sandwich,” wrote the app-generated Seinfeld. "You’ve got the top bun, which is all the good stuff. You’ve got the cheese, the lettuce, the tomato, the mayo. It’s all delicious.
“But then, when you take a closer look, you see the bottom bun, and that’s where the real work is. That’s where the foundation is."
Yada, yada yada.
For all the app's smarts and speed, it wasn't all-knowing. In the speech channeling King, it had the civil rights leader quoting himself. It conveyed none of Abraham Lincoln's eloquence. And it declined to take a run at drafting 2023 Biden's speech, instead serving up a rehash of his last one.
It also drew a blank when asked for a speech from George Santos, the new Republican congressman from New York who was caught fictionalizing his past. It seemed to sense, though, that there was something make-believe in the picture.
“George Santos is not a widely recognized public figure or historical figure,” the app responded. “There is no widely known information about a person by this name in the public domain. It’s possible that the name was created for a specific use or scenario, such as a fictional character or a person in a private setting.”