AI/Machine Learning

‘The apocalypse is well on its way’: Nick Cave has some thoughts on ChatGPT

- January 20, 2023 4 MIN READ
Nick Cave
Nick Cave on his recent Australian tour. Photo: Simon Thomsen
From scammers to students, scientists and smartarses, everyone’s had a crack at getting OpenAI’s new artificial intelligence chatbot, Chat GPT, to write things.

Among them, Nick Cave fans have been asking it to write Cave-style songs. And the Australian-born, UK-based singer-songwriter and author apparently has been getting lots them from his fans.

So many that he felt obliged to respond on his eclectic, thoughtful love letter to all who follow his work, The Red Hand Files.

Mark from Christchurch in New Zealand is one of them, asking “What do you think?”

Cave republished those lyrics and his response to them, in his latest The Red Hand Files post.

And suffice to say that the man who wrote “I jammed the barrel under her chin; And her face looked raw and vicious; Her head it landed in the sink with all the dirty dishes” (O’Malley’s Bar/Murder Ballads) was less than impressed.

“I do not feel the same enthusiasm around this technology. I understand that ChatGPT is in its infancy but perhaps that is the emerging horror of AI – that it will forever be in its infancy, as it will always have further to go, and the direction is always forward, always faster,” Cave wrote in reply to Mark.

“It can never be rolled back, or slowed down, as it moves us toward a utopian future, maybe, or our total destruction. Who can possibly say which? Judging by this song ‘in the style of Nick Cave’ though, it doesn’t look good, Mark. The apocalypse is well on its way. This song sucks.”

Cave goes on to say that ChatGPT “is replication as travesty” and “kind of burlesque” that may write a speech, essay, sermon or even obituary, but cannot create a song.

Why? Well, it lacks a soul.

And given he’s the man who wrote “The spinal cord of JFK/Wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee” (Palaces of Montezuma,/Grinderman 2), we think he has a point (what a rhyme!) – skip to the bottom if you need to see the lyrics ChatGTP wrote if you need to, or stick with us, and Nick, for now.

“Songs arise out of suffering, by which I mean they are predicated upon the complex, internal human struggle of creation and, well, as far as I know, algorithms don’t feel. Data doesn’t suffer. ChatGPT has no inner being,” Cave wrote.

“it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing, it has not had the audacity to reach beyond its limitations, and hence it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend. ChatGPT’s melancholy role is that it is destined to imitate and can never have an authentic human experience, no matter how devalued and inconsequential the human experience may in time become.”

Among the many tasks ChatGTP has undertaken since it launched in beta mode last November, perhaps the most alarming example of its limitations was presented by Christopher Graves, the president and founder of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science , who last week discovered that ChatGTP simply made up supposed scientific references to dress up a response.

Graves took to LinkedIn to sound the alarm, writing:  Beware if you are using ChatGPT to help find scientific studies or even cite studies to support its assertions. It will not hesitate to lie and fabricate them. See my exchange here wherein CHATGPT fabricated very specific study titles and authors, and then confessed. I asked it to not lie and again to seek actual studies. It lied again.”

The minstrel of Murder Ballads described songwriting as “an act of self-murder that destroys all one has strived to produce in the past”. It’s about struggle and suffering and “requires my humanness”.

“This is what we humble humans can offer, that AI can only mimic, the transcendent journey of the artist that forever grapples with his or her own shortcomings.,” Cave said.

“This is where human genius resides, deeply embedded within, yet reaching beyond, those limitations.”

Cave knows grief and suffering more than most as a songwriter, having buried two of his sons, and has spent his carer invoking the divine.

When you compare ChatGTP to he man who wrote “I don’t believe in an interventionist God; But I know, darling, that you do; But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him; Not to intervene when it came to you” (Into My Arms/The Boatman’s Call), it’s quickly apparent that AI is far from omniscient when it comes to the mysteries of human experience.

As Cave said in his new book Faith, Hope and Carnage , to coauthor Sean O’Hagan: “I think music has the ability to penetrate all the f..ked-up ways we have learned to cope with this world – all the prejudices and affiliations and agendas and defences that basically amount to a kind of layered suffering – and get at the thing that lies below and is essential to us all, that is pure, that is good. The sacred essence. I think music, out of all that we can do, at least artistically, is the great indicator that something else is going on, something unexplained, because it allows us to experience genuine moments of transcendence.”

On The Red Hand Files he says ChatGTP’s effort is “bullshit, a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human” although one AI-produced line did catch his eye: “I’ve got the fire of hell in my eyes”. 

“That’s kind of true,” Cave said.

“I have got the fire of hell in my eyes – and it’s ChatGPT.”

His full The Red Hand Files post is here.

Chat GPT’s song in the style of Nick Cave is below.

Verse 1:
In the depths of the night, I hear a call
A voice that echoes, through the hall
It’s a siren’s song, that pulls me in
Takes me to a place, where I can’t begin

I am the sinner, I am the saint
I am the darkness, I am the light
I am the hunter, I am the prey
I am the devil, I am the saviour

Verse 2:
I walk the streets, with my head held high
I’ve got my demons, but I’ll make them fly
I’ll dance with the devil, and I’ll play his game
I’ll be the one, to call his name

I am the sinner, I am the saint
I am the darkness, I am the light
I am the hunter, I am the prey
I am the devil, I am the savior

I’ve got the blood of angels, on my hands
I’ve got the fire of hell, in my eyes
I’m the king of the abyss, I’m the ruler of the dark
I’m the one that they fear, in the shadows they hark

I am the sinner, I am the saint
I am the darkness, I am the light
I am the hunter, I am the prey
I am the devil, I am the saviour

So come with me, to the edge of the night
Where the darkness and the light collide
We’ll walk the line, between the good and the bad
And we’ll see, who comes out on top in the end.


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