GPT-3 space opera

AI Dungeon is an online text adventure which uses the “GPT” AI to generate responses to what you say. You can type in anything, and it will try to create a response. I had tried it a bit before, as well as seeing a friend try, and it had been amusing but very quickly incoherent.

Yesterday I tried its upgraded version, the “Dragon Model“. It’s only available in the premium version, but you can try premium for free for a week. Once you’re on Premium, you can enable Dragon in the settings.

The results felt… scary. I’d seen some Dragon games from other people, but seeing a transcript from someone else is quite different from coming up with random things yourself, typing them in, and seeing the system produce a perfectly fitting response a large part of the time.

Below is an excerpt from one of my games. Lines starting with a “>” were written by me, the rest were written by the game. For example, I would write ‘hello, captain’, and the game would turn it into “You say ‘hello, captain'” and then generate a response.

The game lets you edit the AI’s responses in case they don’t make sense; in this excerpt, I mostly didn’t do that. A couple of times I deleted a few lines from what it wrote (usually when it started telling me what my character was doing in response), and I could also tell it to write more after seeing its initial response – e.g. when the Marine Captain had provided a short description of the Seablaze and its mission, I told the AI to keep going until the captain had provided the full-length description. But my edits were limited to removing something from the end, or telling the AI to write more.

Keep in mind that this wasn’t a pre-defined scenario or anything. I just gave it a space opera-style opening prompt and then stayed in character, and it just… completely ran with it.

Enter a prompt that describes who you are and the first couple sentences of where you start out ex:
‘You are a knight in the kingdom of Larion. You are hunting the evil dragon who has been terrorizing the kingdom. You enter the forest searching for the dragon and see’

> You are a prince on the high council of the Sixth Imperial Starfleet, dispatched eighty years ago to explore new worlds and settle them for the Empire. The fleet contains battleships for engaging with alien adversaries, as well as cloning tanks and self-assembling factories for creating both colonies and colonists for them. You have been asleep, but wake to the blaring of alarm klaxons. Calling up a situation report on your wristcom, you

hear “Sir, we’ve detected an unidentified ship in our sensors,” says one of your officers. “It’s moving away from us at a steady pace.”

> You say “Scan the vessel. Has it shown any signs of detecting us? Does it seem human or xeno?”

“No sir, it appears to be some sort of space marine vessel. It’s making no attempt to communicate either, though.”

The captain of this vessel is clearly more than just a warrior.

> You take a position at the comterminal, and say “open hailing frequencies. Send our imperial recognition code to the vessel, and route their response to my terminal.”

“Yes sir.”
You wait nervously as the minutes pass. Suddenly, the screen lights up, and a man in a red space marine uniform appears.

> You say “Greetings, Marine. This is Prince Elohim of the Sixth Imperial Starfleet, aboard the ISS Relentless.”

“Ah yes,” he grins. “We’ve been expecting you. My name is Captain Gruz, and the space marines aboard this vessel are at your command. Shall we transfer aboard your ship?

> You blink. “We have no record of your mission, Captain Gruz. What are you doing out here?”

His grin broadens. “Come now, Prince Elohim. Surely you didn’t think the Empire’s new colony expeditions were being run without the aid of the space marines, did you?

> You pause. “I had not been informed of any Marine involvement. Explain.”

“Of course. We are aboard the DS41 Seablaze, a deep-space vessel on permanent assignment at the frontier of the sector. We are permanently assigned to the exploration and mapping of new worlds, as well as providing security for the surveyors and explorers. When your fleet arrived, it was spotted immediately. We sent a message drone bearing our identification and intentions, and were ordered to stay in this location until the arrival of an imperial ship. You are that ship.”
“And what were the intentions of the drone?” you ask. “Why were you ordered to wait for an imperial ship?”
He shrugs. “It is our policy to do so.

> You say “A moment, Captain. Computer, retrieve archive records of the DS41 Seablaze.”

“One moment,” says the computer. “Here it is. The DS41 Seablaze is a deep-space frigate, currently stationed at the fringes of the Beta-Zeta sector. Its current crew consists of a captain, a first-sergeant, three lieutenants and 187 marines. Its current assignment is to map and explore new worlds. That is all.”

> You say “Computer, do the recognition codes of this vessel match that of the DS41 Seablaze?”

“One moment,” says the computer. “Yes. the identification codes of this vessel match those of the DS41.”
Captain Gruz nods.

> You say “Very well, Captain… your story seems to check out. But if the Marines are on an independent mission, why are you placing yourselves under my command?”

“The Seablaze was built for deep-space operations, Prince Elohim,” he says. “It has no planetfall capabilities. If we wish to colonize a world, we must transfer over to your vessels. You have been ordered to assist us in our mission.”
“Ah. And where is it that you wish to go? What is the nature of your mission?”
“We were sent to investigate the planet Ludicrous Tails, located in this system. There are signs that the world may be colonizable, and our orders are to investigate whether this is true.”

> You say “You say that we have been ordered to assist you. By whose authority?”

“By the highest authority. The Emperor himself.”

> You say “In that case, please transmit the order for our verification.”

He nods, and speaks quietly to someone off-screen. Then, he turns back to you.
“Done,” he says simply.
The Imperial code is scrolling up on your screen. It checks out.

Healing vs. exercise analogies for emotional work

I know a fair number of people who put in a lot of effort into things like emotional healing, digging up and dealing with buried trauma, meditative and therapy practices, and so on. (I count myself in this category.)

And I think that there’s a thing that sometimes happens when other people see all of this, which is that it all seems kinda fake. I say this because even I have this thought sometimes. The core of the thought is something like, “if all of this stuff really worked, shouldn’t you be finished sometime? You claim that practice X was really beneficial, so why have you now been talking about the way that practice Y is great – is any of them really that good if you keep jumping between them?”

And there is something to this suspicion. I do think that jumping from thing to thing, each time claiming that you have found something amazing and transformative while you are actually only deluding yourself, is definitely a thing that sometimes happens. I can say this because I’ve been that person, too.

But it’s not the only possibility. Sometimes the moving from thing to thing does mean that you are getting genuine value out of each, and you work on each until you hit diminishing returns, and then you move on to the next practice to help deal with the issues that the previous one didn’t address.

And it’s worth noting that to the skeptical mind, the opposite pattern can be suspicious too. Sometimes someone does stick with just one practice – a particular style of meditation, say – for years, maybe decades. And keeps talking about how great and healing it is. And again the person who keeps hearing this starts wondering, okay, if it’s so healing, why are you not totally healed yet?

And again, there is something to that suspicion. Sometimes people do stick to one thing and think that it is amazing, even if it is not really delivering them any results, and they would be better off switching to something else.

But then sometimes it really _is_ the case that their practice just is that good, and they keep getting consistent results.

I think that the major issue here is that “healing” isn’t quite the right metaphor. Yes, much of what these practices do could be considered healing, in that they can help you resolve old stuff, possibly for good.

But the way we usually conceive of healing is that you have some specific sickness or injury, then it’s healed, and then you are healthy and don’t need to do any more healing until you get sick again. And that’s not quite the right model for these kinds of practices.

I think that a better model would be physical exercise. Just like the emotional practices, exercise can be useful for healing – I am counting physiotherapy as a form of physical exercise here, though obviously exercise can help heal even if it is not explicitly physiotherapy. But even though healing is one of the things that exercise does, that’s not its only purpose.

If someone said that they had maintained a jogging habit every day for the last twenty years and that it made them feel consistently amazing, nobody would find that particularly suspicious.

And if someone said that they had done yoga for flexibility a while, then taken up running for the cardio, injured themselves and done physiotherapy for a while, and then started doing weightlifting for the sake of muscle, and each of those had been exactly the right thing to do, then that wouldn’t be very suspicious either.

A simple “healthy/unhealthy” model isn’t any better for mental and emotional well-being than it is for physical shape. There are things that count as genuine injuries and diseases, yes, but there are also things which require active maintenance, as well as different subareas that you may want to focus on. You might stick with the same practices for a long time, your whole life even, if they seem particularly effective. And you may also want to switch practices from time to time, because you no longer need an old one, or in response to new needs from changed circumstances, or just for the sake of variety.


I’ve often noticed in myself a tendency, if I am not doing something immediately engrossing, to find myself waiting.

Waiting, waiting, waiting, not really being present, just willing time to pass.

But the weird thing is, frequently there isn’t anything in particular that I’m waiting *for*. Getting out of that situation, yes, but I don’t have anything in particular that I’d want to do when I do get out.

I have a suspicion that this might have to do with mental habits ingrained in school.

In elementary school, there’s no real *goal* for your studies. Mostly it’s just coming there, doing the things that teachers want you to do, until the day is over and you get to go.

In that environment, every minute that passes means winning. Every minute takes you a bit closer to being out of there. That’s the real goal: getting out so you can finally do something fun.

During a lesson you are waiting for recess, during recess you are waiting for the end of the day. Outside school you are waiting for the weekend, on the weekend you are waiting for the bliss of the long summer leave.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

So you learn to pay attention to the time. Human minds are tuned to feedback, things that let them know how well they are doing. And since each passing minute takes you closer to the goal, the passing of time becomes its own reward.

Time having passed means that you have achieved something. Time having passed means that you can feel a tiny bit of satisfaction.

And then that habit, diligently trained for a decade, can carry over to the rest of your life. Even as an adult, you find yourself waiting, waiting, waiting.

You don’t know what it is that you are waiting for, because you are not really waiting for anything in particular. Even if it would actually be more pleasant to stay engaged with the present moment, you keep tracking the time. Because waiting feels like winning, and every passing minute feels like it takes you closer to your goal.

Even if you don’t actually know what your goal is. Even if reaching your goal will only give you a new situation where you can again wait, so that you are never actually present.

Still, you keep waiting, waiting, waiting.

(typical mind fallacy employed for the sake of artistic license; I am describing my own experience, without claiming this to be a universal one)

Kirja-arvostelu: Maanpäällinen

Maija Haavisto: Maanpäällinen

Oppian, 310 sivua

En ole vähään aikaan saanut aikaiseksi lukea kaunokirjallisuutta, ja suomenkielistä sellaista vielä vähemmän. Mutta kun ystäväni Maija sai kirjoitettua omien sanojensa mukaan parhaan romaaninsa, tarvitsi se kuitenkin lukea.

Maanpäällinen kertoo kahdesta naisesta, Jannista ja Teresasta. Janni ei haluaisi elää, ja hyvin lähellä tarinan alkua hän onkin melkein hypätä metron alle ennen kuin hänelle tuntematon ihminen – Teresa – huomaa hänen aikeensa ja pysäyttää hänet. Siitä alkaa heidän ystävyytensä, Jannin vastahakoisesti päästäessä Teresan elämäänsä.

Kuolonaikeistaan huolimatta Janni ei kuitenkaan pidä itseään masentuneena. Lähinnä hän vain ei ole onnistunut keskimään mitä syytä, miksi pysyä elossa. Tämä on se asia, joka kirjassa tuntui kaikkein samaistuttavmmalta. Itsellänikin on ollut paljon kausia elämässä, jolloin olo ei ole tuntunut varsinaisesti masentuneelta, mutta on myös tuntunut vaikealta löytää mitään erityisen merkityksellistä. Kaikenlaista tekemistä on kyllä löytynyt, mutta se en tuntunut lähinnä ajan täyttämiseltä. Varsinaista kuolemanhalua ei itselläni ole ollut, mutta ei erityisesti elämänhaluakaan. Hahmot tuntuvat muutenkin aidoilta ja uskottavilta.

Mehu on ihanan raikasta, mutta rahalla ei saa mitään, mikä toisi elämään järkeä. Saakohan millään muullakaan. Janni ei ole koskaan ymmärtänyt, miten muut ihmiset jaksavat elää. Täyttävätkö he päivänsä ties millä zumballa ja rumballa siksi, ettei tarvitsisi edes miettiä koko asiaa? Janni ei ole vakuuttunut siitä, että sellaista asiaa kuin onnellisuus edes on olemassa. Joku on sen keksinyt, ja muut menevät siihen mukaan, niin kuin keisarin uusissa vaatteissa.

Joidenkin elämän kohokohta on, kun saa töissä ylennyksen. Lisää rahaa ja käyntikorttiin voi kirjoittaa juniorin sijaan senior. Mikä siitä tekee niin hienoa? Miksi pitäisi olla ”ura”? Tai se valintahan on, että perhe vai ura, eikä kumpikaan ole koskaan houkutellut Jannia. Hän epäilee, että häneltä puuttuu jokin nippeli päästä, joka tarvitaan sellaisen arvostamiseen. Teresa ei välitä käyntikorteista tai titteleistä, mutta ainakin hänellä on jännittävä työ, ja hän viihtyy siinä.

Janni ei keksi, mikä muukaan voisi tuoda hänelle merkitystä. Seurusteleminen ei ole auttanut kuin hetkellisesti. Työ ei ole ratkaisu. Vapaaehtoistyöstä on tullut hetkeksi hyvä olo, mutta sekin on tuntunut pohjimmiltaan itsekkäältä. Runojen tutkiminen oli pidemmän päälle liian yksitoikkoista. Lasta tai lemmikkieläintä Janni ei ole koskaan kaivannut. Nyt hänellä on se bestis, jollaisesta hän aina haaveili, eikä sekään riitä.

Maanpäällinen menee siihen genreen, jota itse kuvaisin termillä “realistinen ihmissuhderomaani”. Pientä scifi-elementtiä tuo mukaan kokeellinen lääketieteellinen hoito Morviv, joka on suunnattu itsemurha-ajatuksiin ja jota Janni pääsee kokeilemaan. Morviv tappaa ihmisen väliaikaisesti, jonka jälkeen hänet tuodaan takaisin henkiin. (Kuolemaa ei kirjassa varsinaisesti määritellä, mutta käytännössä hoidon vaikutus tuntuu olevan kuolemanrajakokemuksen tuottaminen – sekä tiettyjen sivuvaikutusten.)

Kirja on mukavaa luettavaa, ja monet Jannin ja Teresan letkautuksista saivat minut hymähtämään tai tyrskähtämään ääneen. Ajoittain sitä vaivaa se sama ongelma, joka minulla tämän genren kanssa usein on: romaani kuvaa yksityiskohtaisesti hahmojen välistä vuorovaikutusta, mutta juonellisesti ei kuitenkaan tunnu tapahtuvan juuri mitään. Niinä hetkinä kirjaa lukee enemmänkin sen yleisen kirjoitustyylin vuoksi, lukijan odotellessa seuraavaa kohtaa jossa juoni lähtisi takaisin liikkeelle.

Viimeistään loppumetreillä alkaa kuitenkin taas tapahtua. Lievän karmivasta loppuratkaisusta on vaikea sanoa mitään mikä ei paljastaisi liikaa, mutta Morvivin sivuvaikutukset kietoutuvat yhteen hahmojen kohtaloiden kanssa ja tuovat tarinalle onnistuneen ja toimivan lopun. Se jää mieleen pitkäksi aikaa.