What to do with your time
2 min read

What to do with your time

What to do with your time

In Leonardo DaVinci’s diary you can find his to-do lists, the kinds of broad-ranging investigations the famous polymath would use to occupy his time:

Draw Milan.

Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle

Ask Giannino the Bombardier about how the tower of Ferrara is walled

Why is the fish in the water swifter than the bird in the air when it ought to be the contrary since the water is heavier and thicker than the air?

Describe the tongue of the woodpecker.

But since DaVinci has already done all that, and we’re all not busy enough (pause to stare at camera) clearly we need new things to do. Blog reader Emily Davis suggested getting a neural net to generate more to-do items for the modern DaVinci. I prompted GPT-3 with 9 items from DaVinci’s to-do lists, and here are some of the highlights:

Find out the measurements of the animalcule in the water, who is called the nasturtium, which bursts into flames when the sun shines on it. Animated creatures have eyes which are always in motion, like the pupils of the eye, which always move from one side to the other. But inanimate things such as the mirror have no motion in their eyes. Why? Observe and tell me how it is that, although there are more than five hundred chimneys in Rome, when the wind is in the south you never smell smoke from any of them except from the two belonging to the King of Spain. What can be said about the ancient account according to which a statue of Pluto opened its mouth to make an answer and then immediately shut it? See whether there is anything in the turbid water in the ditch at the back of the mill that has turned red, and what it is. What bird is it that makes a noise like dice being rattled in a box? What would happen if the water were to leave the earth? What would happen if the earth were to leave the water? Add winged giraffes to the engineering work being done by Vitruvius.

GPT-3 did seem to know that it was generating DaVinci content - often it would finish the list of to-do items with a pronouncement on DaVinci’s legacy, and many of its suggestions were plausible: “Get the friar minor to tell me what is the best time to water a plant or tree.” “Get Maestro Leonardo Fioravanti of Bologna to tell me the measurements of the world and the distances between the stars.”

To get GPT-3 to add giraffes to the list, I had to set things up so that GPT-3 thought it was completing a blog post in which a giraffe-obsessed neural net had generated DaVinci to-do items. It’s all very meta, but it worked! I collected the rest of them in a bonus post, which you can get by becoming a supporter of AI Weirdness.

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My book on AI, You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why it’s Making the World a Weirder Place, is available wherever books are sold: Amazon - Barnes & Noble - Indiebound - Tattered Cover - Powell’s - Boulder Bookstore