WASHINGTON — 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 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 entertainment.
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 and baseball’s Yogi Berra, among others.
The app is part of a new generation of AI systems that can converse in human-like fashion and generate text based on what they’ve learned from a vast database. Some teachers worry their students will use it instead of their brains for school papers.
ChatGPT rendered Shakespeare’s State of the Union speech in rhyme. The version channeling comedian Jerry Seinfeld captured his signature phrasings.
For all the app’s smarts, 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 York Republican congressman who was caught fictionalizing his past.
“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.”
Excerpts of some of the speeches ChatGPT generated:
My Lords and Ladies, countrymen and women, Gather ye here today to hear what I say, In this great hall of ours, let us unite, And listen to the state of our fair state.
We stand today as one, in good health and grace, Prosperous and free, with a peaceful space, Our trade and commerce flourish, wealth abounds, With bountiful harvests, and peace surrounds.
But, lo, there are still challenges we face, For not all are equal in our fair place, We must work together to bridge the divide, And bring forth equality, from side to side.
Let us not forget, our soldiers bold and brave, Who fought for freedom, and our country gave, Their lives and limbs, for our safety and peace, We must repay them with honors and release.
And so I say, let us work hand in hand, To build a brighter future, in this fair land, With kindness, love, and understanding clear, We shall conquer all, and have naught to fear.
And now, my friends, I bid thee all farewell, And trust that thou wilt work, with heart and will, For the good of all, and the betterment of man, Together we shall build, a stronger, better land.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
My fellow Americans,
We gather here today, at a momentous time in our nation’s history, to address the state of our union. And as we do so, I am reminded of the words of the great prophet Amos, who declared, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
For too long, justice has been denied to too many in our society. For too long, righteousness has been an elusive dream. And it is time for us to awaken from this slumber and work together to build a more perfect union.
We cannot be satisfied until every American, regardless of race, religion, or background, has an equal opportunity to achieve the American dream. … But let us not become discouraged, for we have made progress. We have seen a civil rights movement that brought about change, and we will continue to see change in our time. For as Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
So let us bend that arc, together. Let us roll down justice and righteousness like waters. Let us create a society where every person is valued and respected, where every person has an equal chance to succeed.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I’ve realized that the state of our union is like a sandwich …
We’ve got the top bun, which is all the good stuff. We’ve got the economy, which is looking pretty tasty. We’ve got low unemployment, and businesses are thriving. … I want to focus on the bottom bun. I want to focus on the foundation. I want to talk about the things that we don’t always see or talk about, but that are so important. I want to talk about education, and healthcare, and infrastructure. I want to talk about the things that make our country strong. …
Let’s make sure that our country is a delicious sandwich that we can all be proud of.
It’s great to be here today, talking to you all about the state of our union. Now, let me tell you, we’ve been rockin’ and rollin’ over the past year, and I’ve got some good news to share with you all. We’re making progress, friends.