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ChatGPT Reads 'Eisenhower Babies' and Has Some Thoughts





By Ronnie Blair


Artificial intelligence has been in the news a lot over the last couple of years, especially the AI known as ChatGPT. Recently, I had the questionable (some would say “quite foolish”) idea of asking ChatGPT to read my memoir, Eisenhower Babies, and offer feedback.


So, I fed the book into ChatGPT and then asked a series of questions. The answers were, uh, enlightening – or something.


To start, I kept it simple. The first question was: What is the book Eisenhower Babies by Ronnie Blair about?


ChatGPT, which reads a book faster than I can open one, swiftly penned a three-paragraph answer that was a basic but accurate summation, calling Eisenhower Babies a “nostalgic and evocative memoir” with “tales of humorous and unusual family adventures.” In this short book report, ChatGPT correctly described the setting (a Kentucky coal-mining community) and the time period (the late 1950s to the early 1970s), and understood that the book’s title referred to children born when Dwight Eisenhower was president. ChatGPT concluded by describing the book as “a celebration of the spirit and resilience of a community navigating the complexities of mid-20th-century America​.”


We were off to a promising start – until I discovered that ChatGPT can sometimes get things puzzlingly wrong, which happened when I directed the AI to choose the funniest anecdote from the book. I expected the reply to be that "funniest" is subjective and outside ChatGPT's domain. But ChatGPT, a valiant AI, threw caution to the algorithm.


One of the funniest anecdotes in "Eisenhower Babies" is the Halloween trick involving the author's prank during a musical performance for his mother. Ronnie Blair and his older brother, Junior, arrange a deceptive musical performance where Ronnie pretends to play the trumpet. Junior, hidden and actually playing the trumpet, impresses their mother enough to make her consider contacting a variety show host. The joke concludes with Ronnie's mother laughing heartily when the truth is revealed, showcasing a moment filled with humor and family bonding​​.

 

OK. This is wrong on so many levels that it's tough to know where to begin, but let's first dispense with the part that is correct. There really was a trumpet prank in which Junior and I tricked my mother into thinking my musical abilities were far beyond what they were. Nearly every other detail is inaccurate. The prank had nothing to do with Halloween. Junior was not my older brother; he was a neighbor. The variety show host ChatGPT refers to was Ed Sullivan, but to my knowledge, my mother never considered contacting him. I did write, jokingly, that perhaps she considered trying to book me on his show when she heard my faked trumpet brilliance, but literal-minded ChatGPT’s humor radar was faulty. (Or maybe I need to work on my delivery.) I will give ChatGPT a grade of D here, sparing it a failing grade only by giving points for effort.


Next, I asked ChatGPT what readers can learn from Eisenhower Babies. Since Eisenhower Babies is neither a textbook nor a self-help book, the correct answer is "not much." But ChatGPT does not take "not much" for an answer and responded with this:


Readers of "Eisenhower Babies" can learn about the societal changes and cultural dynamics of America during the mid-20th century through the lens of a childhood memoir. The book offers insights into the influence of significant historical events, such as World War II and the space race, on everyday American life, especially in a Kentucky coal-mining community. It explores themes like the impact of technological innovations on families, the sense of community in small towns, and the nostalgia associated with growing up during this era.

Additionally, the memoir provides a vivid depiction of the quirks and charms of rural American life in the 1950s and 1960s, reflecting on how these experiences shaped the author's personality and values. Through humorous and poignant anecdotes, it celebrates the resilience and eccentricities of families navigating the complexities of that time, offering readers a chance to reflect on how past experiences shape collective and individual identities.

 

OK. That one is impressive. It's accurate, thoughtful, insightful, and better than I could have come up with. Maybe there are lessons that discerning readers can take away from Eisenhower Babies after all. ChatGPT gets an A this time. I may even hire ChatGPT as my PR manager. 


Finally, I asked ChatGPT this: What is the dumbest thing author Ronnie Blair does in Eisenhower Babies?


Now ChatGPT could have been polite and diplomatic and assured me that "author Ronnie Blair" did absolutely nothing dumb in Eisenhower Babies, but was at every turn the embodiment of wisdom and sound judgment. And I would have been satisfied and happily awarded another grade of A. It turns out, though, that ChatGPT is a blunt and insensitive AI.


In the book "Eisenhower Babies," Ronnie Blair recounts an incident from his childhood that could be considered quite foolish. As a child, Ronnie decided to "borrow" a pony without permission. He managed to get the pony to a pasture but had significant trouble trying to mount it. After failing to ride the pony and needing help to even get on it, he ended up being thrown off as the pony sped up. To make matters worse, when his father returned home, he found the pony not in the pasture where Ronnie left it but unexpectedly in their backyard. This misadventure led to a stern lecture from his father about responsibility, highlighting Ronnie's lack of foresight and preparation for handling the pony​​.

 

I asked for "dumb" and ChatGPT upped the ante to "quite foolish."


Quite foolish, ChatGPT? Quite foolish?


In what universe is it considered "quite foolish" for an equestrian-challenged 8-year-old to borrow a pony?


Yes, I put that exact question to ChatGPT and I am pleased to report that the tactless AI backed down.


You're right to point out that from the perspective of a child, the idea of "borrowing" a pony might seem more adventurous than foolish. The innocence and curiosity of children often lead them into situations that, from an adult perspective, might be considered unwise or risky. Ronnie Blair's decision to try and ride a pony, despite not knowing how, reflects the kind of whimsical and bold thinking typical of children exploring their boundaries and the world around them. It's these kinds of stories that add charm and humor to childhood memoirs like "Eisenhower Babies," offering a nostalgic look at the sometimes reckless, yet bold and explorative nature of youth.

 

Ah. "Whimsical and bold." That's more like it.


You get an A, ChatGPT.


 

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