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Stop Using AI Like A Vending Machine
And use it like flint & steel instead
Prompt engineering isn’t just about getting AI to do what you want. It is about fostering interactions that encourage us to think and create in new ways.
It's about fluidly moving back and forth in a collaboration between human and machine.
To illustrate this, let me use a little poetry.
AI & the Surrealist Mind
As someone who has always loved Surrealism as a way to create new ways of seeing the world, I’ve seen AI as just another tool to explore language in new ways for quite some time — a way to challenge traditional forms and push the boundaries of language.
For those of you who may not know, Surrealism is an artistic movement that emerged in the early 20th century and aimed to break free from the constraints of rationalism and create an alternate reality. Surrealists often used dream-like imagery and juxtapositions to create a sense of the uncanny.
In the realm of poetry, Surrealism allows us to break free from the constraints of logical thought and explore new ways of expressing our emotions and experiences.
We can take this exploration further using AI technology to generate unexpected connections and juxtapositions that we may not have thought of otherwise.
Prompting AI to Prompt Me
It should not be strange for creative writers to think about prompts. We’ve used them for centuries to spark new ideas and break writer’s block.
But what if we could take that idea of prompts and turn it on its head? What if we could prompt the AI to prompt us?
This is where interactive prompt engineering comes in. Instead of simply giving the AI a prompt and waiting for it to generate text, we can actually manipulate the prompts we give it to encourage more creative and unexpected responses.
For example, I recently used M. M. Poetry’s weekly prompt to help Google Bard to prompt me. This “poetry battle prompt” asked writers to write a poem using the unscrambled word “ETINCSANDLE”.
As someone who does not really care much for puzzles, I asked AI to unscramble the word. It gave me five random words, which were kind of unscrambled from the prompt.
So not really unscrambled, but that didn’t really matter to me, because the point is to create something new. So I asked Google Bard to write a poem incorporating all ten words.
Then I used a Surrealist poem generator prompt.
The results were better than usual. This makes sense. The goal of Surrealism is to come up with unusual images and language that create new ways of seeing. Injecting random words into AI is a perfect way to do this.
If you treat AI like a machine, you’ll get machine-like results. But if you approach it with a creative mindset, you are more likely to get something interesting.
Flint Striking Steel
To be clear, my Surrealist poem generator prompt doesn’t really work great. That is, it doesn’t necessarily auto-generate a complete poem… at least that I would be happy with. It does create coherent, sometimes interesting poetry, but nothing I would want to read or publish.
Yes, my friends, poetry still needs humans.
Instead of accepting anything wholesale, I just generate poems over and over again until something strikes me. In fact, the first stanza of the first poem really stood out to me.
Candlelight flickers in the dental lanes,
Teeth chattering in the dark,
A symphony of enamel and bone,
Echoing through the park.
Subsequent generations didn’t get better than that, so I took that stanza and began playing around with it myself in Soduwrite, an AI enhanced writing space for creative writers. You can write as much as you like on your own and then microgenerate text whenever you like.
I have it set to generate only 50 words, 3 generations at a time in order to focus on images, juxtapositions, and new language … and to keep control of the writing (not to cede my writing to AI).
So I wrote and microgenerated and wrote, like flint striking at steel.
I took that spark and ran with it, letting my imagination and the AI-enhanced writing space take me on a journey. The end result was a pretty interesting poem.
Writing with AI isn’t just about telling it what to do, but about making connections, like flint striking steel, and then seeing where it takes you.
AI can provide us with the tools to create something new, but the creative process must come from us … writers.