Coherence of Sustainable Development Goals through Artificial Intelligence
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 29 May 2023
Elaboration of Strategic Sonnets as Memorable 14-Fold Modes of Aesthetic Presentation
With respect to AI, the following exploration follows from consideration of whether the current conservative response by authorities to AI should be seen as one of “dumbing down” in contrast to the the potential for eliciting a higher order of authenticity and subtlety in dialogue (Artificial Emotional Intelligence and its Human Implications, 2023). That earlier argument noted the concern expressed at a convocation at The White House of leaders of high tech corporations actively developing AI (White House: Big Tech bosses told to protect public from AI risks, BBC, 5 May 2023). In a spirit of speculative vigilance, it also noted the possibility that the scripting of mainstream discourse in response to the pandemic could have been crafted and curated by AI (Governance of Pandemic Response by Artificial Intelligence, 2021).
Even more recently, widespread media coverage has been given to the regulatory concerns considered vital by Sam Altman, the chairman of OpenAI, the corporation developing ChatGPT (OpenAI CEO calls for laws to mitigate ‘risks of increasingly powerful’ AI, The Guardian, 17 May 2023; A Warning For AI Usage From Sam Altman, OpenAI CEO, Social Nation, 18 May 2023). First released to public access in November 2022, at the time of writing ChatGPT is recorded to have reached 100 million users in two months, with an estimated 10 million queries per day (DavidCurry, ChatGPT Revenue and Usage Statistics, Business of Apps, 5 May 2023; Ritik Sharma, 103 Amazing ChatGPT Statistics for May 2023, ContentDetectorAI, 25 May 2023). Many corporations are scrambling to adapt their processes to its benefits and to protect themselves from its challenges. It has been estimated that 80% of the US workforce could have 10% of work tasks affected by GPT models.
The focus of the following exercise is however on the relevance of AI to the global strategies framed and articulated by the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The issue of concern is whether these are expressed in a form to ensure the uptake vital to progress on their implementation — with the strong possibility that their articulation may become increasingly irrelevant, despite the many initiatives to promote them (Systemic Coherence of the UN’s 17 SDGs as a Global Dream, 2021). That study explored whether the set of SDGs was in any way coherent or merely an arbitrary outcome of political horse-trading.
The question explored here is how the readily forgettable conventional articulation of the SDGs might be challenged by the articulation of sonnets, given the memorable inspiration they have offered over centuries. Specifically, to what extent might AI transform the articulation of SDGs into a more meaningful form embodying the cognitive devices long associated and explored in the design of sonnets by poets. This focus follows from previous exploration of the relevance of poetry to governance, especially in the minds of some noted leaders (Poetry-making and Policy-making: arranging a marriage between Beauty and the Beast, 1993; Poetic Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic opportunity? 2009). More generally it follows from the potentially vital role of aesthetics to governance and the articulation of its concerns (Aesthetics of Governance in the Year 2491, Futures, 23, 1991, 4).
With respect to sonnets, especially valuable is the remarkable summary offered by Timothy Hampton who introduces his argument with reference to the opening line of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet:
‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ The opening line of William Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet might lead you to think that you’re being prepared for a weather report. But that is only part of what awaits you. Shakespeare’s sonnet – like all sonnets – is a mechanism, a kind of a machine. Its parts work both together and against each other so as to exercise the mind of the reader. When you work with it, as you enter its world, you get the literary equivalent of a workout at the gym. (The Sonnet Machine, Aeon, 25 May 2023).
In a period dramatically challenged by the natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, there is a case for recognizing that governance is unduly focused on “weather reports” at a time when Shakespeare’s question is especially relevant in the light of the manner in which it is transformed within that sonnet, as discussed below. More generally it can be usefully asked whether metaphor offers a key to reframing the challenges of global governance (Weather Metaphors as Whether Metaphors, 2015; Enhancing Strategic Discourse Systematically using Climate Metaphors, 2015). Is there a case to be made for strategic articulation in sonnet form, as previously argued (Future challenge of problematic sets for governance — strategic sonnets? 2021).
Especially valuable within the sonnet form, as noted below, is the manner in which it reconciles contrasting and mutually challenging perspectives. Arguably any devices of this kind are vital to a civilization fragmented by seemingly incommensurable opposing perspectives. It is for this reason that the argument with respect to sonnets and SDGs is speculatively developed here, with the aid of AI, in relation to the set of 16 logical connectives central to the neglected discipline of oppositional logic and geometry. As a relationship featuring in earlier investigations, introducing it into an exchange with ChatGPT offers insights into the process in which the an author’s preoccupations and bias may be reinforced and developed — given the concerns about human creativity challenged by AI.
The experimental presentations which follow take the form of responses by ChatGPT to a sequence of questions put to it. The answers are necessarily those of the most widely available version of ChatGPT (version 3.4) and not the reputedly more subtly creative later version (Eric Griffith, GPT-4 vs. ChatGPT-3.5: What’s the Difference? PC Magazine, 17 March 2023). The newer version is promoted as 40% more factual, and 82% less likely to react to requests for forbidden content — however that is to be interpreted.
A number of the questions in the following exercise derived from a brainstorming session with Tomas Fülöpp with respect to the impact of ChatGPT on his development of the online Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. The possibility of augmenting the profiles of the thousands of problems and strategies therein was already a subject of experiments. These notably draw directly on the ChatGPT facility to develop the texts relating to incidence of specific problems, claims for their importance (and counter-claims challenging them), or suggesting links to other aggravating problems. Specifically however, as an interactive facility, the brainstorm focused on how users of the Encyclopedia might in future reframe any problem or strategy via ChatGPT as a poem, a joke, or otherwise.
A significant feature of the following exercise is critical appreciation of the answers progressively generated by ChatGPT. Initial responses to any question may well be both remarkable in some respects and extremely dubious from other perspectives. This is especially the case with transformation of the 17 SDGs into sonnet form. As the first iteration in an experiment, the responses are reproduced here as received. It should be emphasized that there is every possibility to challenge ChatGPT to reformulate any responses in the light of critical inspection — some examples of which are given. A person with poetic sensibilities would then radically challenge the formulation of the “sonnets” through a succession of iterations. Although clearly those with ideological concerns might call for their reformulation from some other perspective. The “creativity” then lies in articulating that challenge to enable a distinct response by ChatGPT.
This mode of engagement with ChatGPT serves to highlight a more fundamental issue with respect to discourse in any purportedly democratic society. The initial formulations of the SDGs in sonnet form (as reproduced below) can be readily characterized as typical of the language favoured by politicians, authorities and specialists in image management — crafting slogans and jingles deemed appropriately evocative of fundamental human values. They readily recall phrasing criticised as bland, “silver-tongued“,”mealy-mouthed“, or dependent on “weasel words“. In contrast with exposure to such articulation by authorities, ChatGPT can be challenged to reformulate its response in other language — if those preferences can be adequately articulated. This is rarely the case in any interaction with authorities.
Such challenge, if pursued, may reveal a further constraint of ChatGPT, namely a tendency to take default refuge in cliched expressions regarding its limitations with respect to the “complex” and the “multifacetted”. An analogous tendency is evident in the discourse of authorities, notably reference to how “everything is connected to everything” and therefore excusing the absence of any precise response — or “straight answer”.
Both examples highlight the sense in which discourse in civilization can be understood as a massive word-game dynamic of which ChatGPT now constitutes an enabling high-tech development. The sobering consideration is whether the most skilled keynote speaker will soon lack the capacity to articulate concerns in a manner more engaging than an AI facility — especially one that it is open to challenge by an audience. Just as AIs have demonstrated a capacity to win against the masters of chess, go and poker, it may be readily imagined that they will soon be able to outmaneuver opponents in debate. The conservative reaction to AI is understandable.
Given the potential strategic significance of the 17 SDGs for global civilization faced with the possibility of collapse, the argument concludes by eliciting from ChatGPT a suggestion for scoping out the dramatic elements of a possible epic poem analogous to the Mahabarata, the Kalevala or the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Justification of the relevance of the sonnet form to articulation of challenges of global governance
Noting the capacity of AI to compose poems, early reports regarding ChatGPT contributed to controversy in this regard (Joe Santamaria, Poetry, ChatGPT, and AI: Can it Create ‘Great’ Poetry? Poem Analysis; Daniel Soufi, ChatGPT vs Poetry: can artificial intelligence write in verse? El Pais, 17 March 2013). On the occasion of UNESCO’s World Poetry Day (2023), a test was presented to determine whether people were capable of distinguishing between poems generated by ChatGPT and those of human poets (World Poetry Day: Can you tell which poem was written by ChatGPT? Al Jazeera, 21March 2023). However a reason why AI is claimed to write pretty awful verse was addressed by Walt Hunter (What Poets Know That ChatGPT Doesn’t, The Atlantic, 13 February 2023). This avoided the question as to why a high proportion of human poetry is far less engaging than the sonnets of Shakespeare.
Following the explorations of the potential role of poetry in policy-making (as noted above), particular consideration was subsequently given to the possible relation between the much-studied 14-fold organization of sonnets (Variety of Rhyming Patterns in Standard 14-line Sonnets, 2021) and the separately studied 14-fold patterns deemed significant to organizational management and policy articulation. The latter tendency is evident from the range of web resources on the matter (Pattern of 14-foldness as an Implicit Organizing Principle for Governance? 2021). The question was the nature of the potential interplay between the two perspectives (Potential for Coherence through Engaging Strategic Poetry, 2021)
The potential relationship highlighted the possibility of a relative unexplored correspondence between perceived patterns of organization in seemingly disparate, if not supposedly incommensurable domains. This was previously explored (and discussed further below) in the light of a 14-fold pattern of logical connectives (Embodiment of logical connectives in sonnet form, 2021). These connectives are otherwise considered as fundamental to the operation of computer algorithms.
As noted in the earlier argument, there is seemingly little insight — or interest — in the justification for a 14-fold pattern, any more than that for other common preferences of strategic significance. The early commentary in this respect by William Sharp is therefore unique (The Sonnet: Its Characteristics and History, Sonnets of This Century, 1887):
The structure of the sonnet is arbitrary in so far that it is the outcome of continuous experiment moulded by mental and musical influences: it is not a form to be held sacred simply because this or that great poet, or a dozen poets, pronounced it be the best possible poetic vehicle for its purpose. It has withstood the severest test that any form can be put to: it has survived the changes of language, the fluctuations of taste, the growth of culture, the onward sweep and the resilience of the wave of poetry that flows to and fro, “with kingly pauses of reluctant pride,” across all civilised peoples: for close upon six hundred years have elapsed since Guittone and Dante and Petrarca found the perfected instrument ready for them to play their sweetest music upon….
The Guittonian limitation of the sonnet’s length to fourteen lines was, we may rest assured, not wholly fortuitous. The musical and poetic instinct probably, have determined its final form more than any apprehension of the fundamental natural law beneath its metrical principles.… It became necessary, then, to find a mould for the expression of a single thought, emotion, or poetically apprehended fact, which would allow sufficient scope for sonority of music and the unfolding of the motive and its application, and which yet would not prove too ample for that which was to be put into it.
Repeated experiments tended to prove that twelve, fourteen, or sixteen lines were ample for the presentation of any isolated idea or emotion; again, that the sensitive ear was apt to find the latter number a shade too long, or cumbrous; and still later, that while a very limited number of rhymes was necessitated by the shortness of the poem, the sixteen reverberations of some three or four terminal sounds frequently became monotonous and unpleasing. Ten or twelve-line poems were ascertained to be as a rule somewhat fragmentary, and only worthily served when the poet was desirous of presenting to his readers a simple pearl rather than a diamond with its flashing facets, though here also there was not enough expansion for restricted rhyme, while there was too much for merely two or at the most three distinct terminal sounds.
Again, it was considered advisable that the expression should be twofold, that is, that there should be the presentation of the motive, and its application; hence arose the division of the fourteen-line poem into two systems. How were these systems to be arranged? Were seven lines to be devoted to the presentation of the idea or emotion, and seven to its application: seven to the growth of the tree, and seven to its fruitage: seven to the oncoming wave, and seven to its resurge? The sensitive ear once more decided the question, recognising that if there were to be a break in the flow of melody — and the necessity of pauses it had already foreseen — it could not be at a seventh line, which would bring about an overbalance of rhyme.
Experience and metrical music together coincided to prove that the greatest amount of dignity and beauty could be obtained by the main pause occurring at the end of the eighth line. Here, then, we arrive at the two systems into which the sonnet is divided — the major and the minor: and because the major system consists of eight lines, it is called the “octave,” and correspondingly the minor system is known as the “sestet.” It soon became evident, however, that something more was wanted: it was as if a harpist had discovered that with another string or two he could greatly add to the potential powers of his instrument. This was the number and the true distribution of rhyme-sounds. How many were to occur in the octave, how many in the sestet? or were they to pervade both systems indiscriminately? … Again, Guittone had definitely demonstrated that in length each sonnet-line should consist of ten syllables, the decasyllabic metre permitting a far greater sonority than the octosyllabic; and that acute experimentalist probably quite realised that continuous sonority and unbroken continuity of motive were two of the most essential characteristics of the sonnet. No one who has any knowledge of the laws both of music and of poetical forms would be surprised if it were proved, as has been asserted, that Fra Guittone or his predecessors perceived and acted in accordance with the close analogy existing between their chosen metrical form and the musical system established by Guido Bonatti in the eleventh century. Throughout Fra Guittone’s work it is evident that he is no blind blunderer, but a poet striving to make his vehicle the best possible, working upon it with a determinate aim. [emphasis added]
The sonnets stand as the record of a mind working out positions without the help of any pantheon or any systematic doctrine. Shakespeare’s speaker often considers, in rapid succession, any number of intellectual or ideological positions, but he does not move among them at random. To the contrary: in the first quatrain of any given sonnet he has a wide epistemological field in which to play, but in the second quatrain he generally queries or contradicts or subverts his first position (together with its discourse-field). By the third quatrain, he must (usually) advance to his subtlest or most comprehensive or most truthful position (Q3 therefore taking on, in the Shakespearean sonnet, the role of the sestet in the Petrarchan sonnet). And the couplet — placed not as resolution (which is the function of Q3) but as coda — can then stand in any number of relations (summarizing, ironic, expansive) to the preceding argument. The gradually straitened possibilities as the speaker advances in his considerations give the Shakespearean sonnet a funnel-shape, narrowing in Q3 to a vortex of condensed perceptual and intellectual force, and either constricting or expanding that vortex via the couplet. (The Sonnets, Infobase Publishing, 2009, p. 294) [emphasis added]
Given the improbability that the literature on the 14 to 16 logical connectives would either make any reference to poetry or consider the possibility of their articulation in sonnet form, it is quite surprising to note the various references to “logical connectives” in discussion of sonnets. Thus for Helen Vendler:
Many quatrains, taken singly, could well be called conventional, and paraphrases of them by critics make them sound stultifying. What is not conventional is the sonnet’s (invisibly predicated) set of relations — of the quatrains to one another and to the couplet; of the words and images to one another; of the individual grammatical and syntactic units to one another. Even though the appearance of logic is often smoothly maintained by a string of logical connectives (When… When… Then), some disruptive or contradictory force will enter the poem to pull one quatrain in two directions at once — toward its antecedent quatrain by one set of words, toward its consequent by another; toward the couplet by its temporality; toward a preceding quatrain by its spatiality. Since quatrains often participate in several patterns simultaneously, their true “meaning” is chartable only by charting their pattern-sets (The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 29) [emphasis added]
The argument with respect to Shakespear’s “summer’s day” by Timothy Hampton is subtitled as: A sonnet contains an emotional drama of illusion and deception, crisis and resolution, crafted to make us think and feel (The Sonnet Machine, Aeon, 25 May 2023). A case can be made for the inclusion for such subtlety in the articulation of a strategic pattern like the SDGs.
As explained by Hampton, the composition of a sonnet evolved through combining stanzas of six and eight lines.
The sonnet involved putting two of these stanzas together to produce a little poem of 14 lines, divided into eight lines and six lines – an octave and a sestet – with a break in the middle called a volta. These numerical groupings may seem abstract, but they are what makes the sonnet work. They allow the writer to divide the poetic world in two – to depict two versions of the same event, or two emotional states that can co-exist only in a kind of tension.
To read through a sonnet is to be faced with an aptitude test, a questioning of your cognitive and moral capacities. It articulates the flexibility of the self… We start to worry that being compared favourably to a summer’s day might not be such a great compliment after all. ‘Shall I compare thee? Well, OK, I will – but be aware that these days are not all perfect and that, in any case, autumn is coming and they won’t last long’. The change wrought by the passage of time is, however, stopped short right at the volta, which recasts everything that has come before… A poem that first appeared to be about good weather, warm days and the rhythms of nature now turns out to be a celebration of the power of verse.
In the current period in which reality and illusion stand in challenging relationship rendering governance especially problematic, there is particular relevance to Hampton’s argument:
The theme of illusion versus reality, I suggest, is virtually built into the sonnet. It’s why sonnets have been particularly popular in contexts shaped by social anxiety – Renaissance Europe, with its elaborate courtly rituals, being one example.
Such indications can be understood as justifying experiment with transformation of the SDGs into sonnet form — given the facilities offered by AI.
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