Many have heard of ChatGPT, a language model chatbot developed by OpenAI based on GPT-3. “It has a remarkable ability to interact in conversational dialogue form and provide responses that can appear surprisingly human.” Recently, users have asked ChatGPT for Churchill quotes or speeches on all manner of subjects—and even essays about Churchill—which are remarkably convincing.
Steve Forbes, who advocates a return to the Gold Standard, asked ChatGPT for a Churchill speech supporting it. (As Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924-29, Churchill returned Britain to Gold, for which he received much criticism.) ChatGPT provided Forbes with a convincing transcript that sounded just like Churchill, but contained nothing he ever uttered or wrote. ChatGPT is also able to cough up genuine Churchill quotes. Unfortunately they have also mistakenly scanned many things he never said, and occasionally disgorge these, too.
My colleague John Plumpton records one case, however, where ChatGPT was stumped. A user asked the chatbot for Churchill quotes relating to bananas. Here is the reply. (John writes: “I trust you have not lost your sense of humour”…)
We’re sorry, but it doesn’t appear that Winston Churchill ever made any quotes specifically about bananas. However, we can provide some fictional quotes that use his style and references to bananas….
Their fictional quotes are hilarious, and show the range of ChatGPT’s scans of Churchill’s actual words:
Bananas are the fruit of victory.
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…we shall never surrender to a lack of bananas.
Never in the field of human consumption was so much owed by so many to so few bananas.
It is a good thing for an uneducated man to eat a banana.
But yes, he had some bananas
The only problem with all this is that Churchill did say things about bananas…. Thanks to the Hillsdale College Churchill Project’s scans of his 20 million published words, we have ChatGPT right where we want them:
A man walking down the street is confronted by a costermonger’s barrow filled with bananas. (Laughter.) I think it a great achievement, reflecting the utmost honour and credit upon all who were concerned in it, that this fruit—I will say delicious fruit, although I am not myself partial to it—which contains so many valuable food and fuel constituents, which a few years ago was the curious luxury of the rich, has now become an article of frequent consumption amongst the masses of the people. (Hear, hear.) —WSC, Adelphia Hotel, Liverpool, 5 May 1906 (Complete Speeches, 1974, 8 vols., I: 622.)
Churchill also made several references to bananas in his 1908 African travelogue:
Kampala, the home of 60,000 persons, is permanently invisible. The whole town is buried under the leaves of innumerable banana plantations, which afford shade and food to its people, and amid which their huts are thickly scattered and absolutely concealed. —WSC, My African Journey (Leo Cooper edition 1989, 69.)
And as Prime Minister three decades later, he hadn’t lost his regard, despite his personal distaste, for the staple fruit of the tropics:
I should be much obliged if you would let me know the reasons which have made it necessary to stop the import of bananas altogether.” —WSC to Lord Woolton (Minister of Food), 29 November 1940 (The Churchill Documents, vol. 15, Never Surrender, May-December 1940. 2011, 1159.)
“Let not the slothful chortle”
Ian Langworth, who plies the trade of software engineer in Silicon Valley, reminds us not to be too complacent about all this. ChatGPT has only been around for a few years. “Give them another five and they’ll probably have picked up every word Churchill wrote.” (And why not? More and more of it is falling into the public domain.)
So, before we lazily laugh at the tech boffins’ failure accurately to pinpoint the Great Man’s every word, we might stop to consider: They are just getting started.
As WSC was wont to say on occasion: “Let not the slothful chortle.”