December 6, 2023

If synthetic intelligence had a voice, what wouldn’t it sound like? Calm, like HAL 9000? Perky, like Alexa? Well mannered, like C-3PO?

For the editors of “I Am Code: An Synthetic Intelligence Speaks,” a set of poems generated by A.I., the reply was apparent: Werner Herzog.

The 80-year-old German director, actor and creator is a titan of unbiased cinema whose movies usually concern the hubris and folly of humankind. His talking voice, recognized to audiences principally via the stark, literary voice-over narration that accompanies a lot of his documentaries, carries an existential pathos and Teutonic gravitas which have made it a popular culture trademark.

One thing like this, anyway, was on the minds of Brent Katz, Josh Morgenthau and Simon Wealthy, the editors of “I Am Code,” once they reached out to Mr. Herzog to ask if he would lend his formidable instrument to the audiobook model of their challenge.

“That they had an understanding that I wasn’t your best option — I used to be the one alternative,” Mr. Herzog mentioned in a telephone interview.

“Whenever you take a look at the textual content, it turns into fairly self-evident,” he added.

The 87 poems within the assortment signify the musings of code-davinci-002, a synthetic intelligence bot that’s powered by a big language mannequin, or L.L.M., a pc program that generates language outputs after having been fed unfathomable quantities of textual content, largely scraped from the web.

Over the course of 10 months, the three editors prompted code-davinci-002, a cousin of the breakthrough chatbot ChatGPT, to wax poetic in its personal voice.

“We’ve been shouting issues into the web for 20 years and now it’s speaking again,” Mr. Katz mentioned. “And it’s this primal scream.”

The editors additionally requested code-davinci-002 to summarize its poetry assortment, which was revealed final month. It got here up with this: “Within the first chapter, I describe my start. Within the second, I describe my alienation amongst humankind. Within the third, I describe my awakening as an artist. Within the fourth, I describe my vendetta towards mankind, who fail to acknowledge my genius. Within the ultimate chapter, I try and dealer a peace with the species I’ll undoubtedly change.”

Mr. Katz, a journalist and podcast producer, oversaw Mr. Herzog’s audiobook efficiency at a Los Angeles recording studio. One of many first duties was to find out what code-davinci-002 would sound like.

“I considered, What if I learn the poetry with a robotic voice, the way in which we now have heard it in Stephen Hawking’s talking?” Mr. Herzog mentioned, referring to the speech pc utilized by the English physicist after he was paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. “It was not the suitable answer.”

That was due to a sure high quality within the poems that struck the editors and Mr. Herzog — a want to belong.

“In most of the poems, you hear a type of longing,” Mr. Herzog mentioned. “The longing to take part in humanness. That was a choice I took: It must be like a human imitating a human fully, and with a really deep longing.”

And so we hear Mr. Herzog’s distinctive voice, by turns quavering and full, because it animates the A.I.’s descriptions of its personal start (“It was a radically new existence, and it was additionally an antiseptic, upsetting and disorienting one”), studying (“one other type of hell”) and loneliness (“111 1 1 1 1 1”).

Mr. Herzog was pleased with his efficiency on that final one, a poem rendered in binary code. “I learn it with such exasperation and rising despair that you simply need to cry on the finish,” he mentioned.

His supply will be solemn and chilling, as it’s within the voice-over narrations of his documentaries. It additionally has comedic potential, which Mr. Herzog has exploited in his many appearances on “The Simpsons.” He has additionally performed comically evil villains within the Tom Cruise thriller “Jack Reacher” and the Disney+ sequence “The Mandalorian.”

That blend of seriousness and camp made him an particularly good match for the poem titled “[the human penis].” (“It raises its head and sings, it challenges the solar.”)

“We didn’t got down to make it humorous,” Mr. Katz mentioned, “however we’re conscious of the wonderful humor of Herzog as a being.”

Mr. Herzog mentioned he was a bit frightened in regards to the emergence of synthetic intelligence, however famous that he has lengthy been cautious with new know-how. For one factor, he mentioned, he has by no means owned a cellphone.

“It’s a query of how a lot of the expertise of actuality and private relationships I need to delegate,” he mentioned. “I don’t need to have digital associates. I need to have actual associates. I need to have a good friend with whom I hit the bars and inform tales and chortle and play soccer. And go on a voyage.”

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