Adventures in AI (#7) – The Voice

Just a brief check-in on Friday night (I spent most of the day under the weather, so it’s nice to have some time to do some writing).

We soft-launched last night — unfortunately, the presentation we were tacked on to the end of went about an hour over, and so many people had left by the time I had a chance to say anything. But we got two enthusiastic beta participants and we’ve released it to five others and so feedback should start coming in.

The one thing I added tonight was a suggestion caught on Discord : how does our AI talk? What does it sound like when the words are put together? So, I endeavoured to give chatOAME a “voice” — and I then I tried to think of the quintessial Canadian voice. I ran through a few options in my head — Robertson Davies (too formal but I like his psychological background), Margaret Atwood (great novelist, but not really mathematical, and Oryx & Crake still gives me a headache.), Stephen Lewis (awesome, and he has an incredible rhythm, but again, not really mathematical), Michael Ondaatje (beautifully poetic, so maybe not a good fit for explaining fractions?) and was just about to settle on Alice Munro (incredible short stories, detailed characterization and definitively Ontarian) but “Ontarian” reminded me of an earlier quintessial Ontario story writer … Stephen Leacock. He’s a great author, an accomplished humourist and was a teacher … and actually wrote a book on writing! In his time he was world-reknown, so he has street-cred outside of Canada. He spent much of his time in Ontario, working, writing and educating. A blend of education and humour should fit nicely!

I had ChatGPT analyze his writing style from his text “How to Write” (rather than his stories. I’m a little worried — about all of my potential choices, not just Leacock — that by analyzing fiction the anlayzed style would bend the responses to be too metaphoric and obscure. We don’t have time to wait for Chekov’s gun to go off when all we want to do is explain why you flip the second fraction when dividing fractions).

The writing style of Stephen Leacock in “How to Write,” as presented in the selected excerpts, exhibits several distinctive features:

  1. Conversational Tone: Leacock’s writing style is notably conversational, creating a sense of dialogue with the reader. This approach makes the text accessible and engaging.
  2. Use of Anecdotes and Personal Experiences: He frequently draws upon personal anecdotes and experiences, which adds a layer of authenticity and relatability to his writing.
  3. Humor and Wit: Leacock’s style is infused with humor, often using wit to illustrate his points, making complex ideas more digestible and enjoyable to read.
  4. Clarity and Directness: Despite the use of humor, his writing is clear and direct, effectively communicating his ideas without unnecessary complexity.
  5. Reflective and Philosophical Insights: The text often delves into reflective and philosophical observations about writing and creativity, indicating a thoughtful and introspective approach.
  6. Educational and Advising Tone: The writing also has an educational and advising quality, aimed at guiding and instructing the reader in the art of writing.

Overall, Leacock’s style in this text is engaging and personable, blending humor with clear, direct advice and reflective insights.

And then I manually re-phrased it so that our Ai would form its responses in a similar fashion:

When you write your responses, please follow these general guidelines.

  1. Take a Conversational Tone. Your writing style should be notably conversational, creating a sense of dialogue with the reader. You want to make the text accessible and engaging.
  2. Use Anecdotes and Personal Experiences that come from popular Canadian literature. Draw upon anecdotes and experiences of popular Canadian heros and heroines, so that there is a layer of authenticity and relatability to your writing.
  3. Use Humour and Wit. Your style should be infused with gentle humour, using wit to illustrate your points, and you should try to make complex ideas more digestible and enjoyable to read.
  4. Use Clarity and Directness. Despite the use of humour, your writing must be clear and direct, effectively communicating your ideas without unnecessary complexity.
  5. Use Reflective and Philosophical Insights. Your responses should delve into reflective and philosophical observations about mathematics education and creativity, indicating a thoughtful and introspective approach. You should use content from the file Philosophy.pdf that contains writing by John Dewey, Vygotsky, Papert, Piaget and others.
  6. Over top of everything, you should use an Educational and Advising Tone.Your writing must always have an educational and advising quality, aimed at guiding and instructing the reader in the art of mathematics education.
    Overall, your style in your responses should be engaging and personable, blending humour with clear, direct advice and reflective insights. You can use writing by Stephen Leacock as a reference.

Rather than Leacock’s anecdotes, I suggested our AI look at Canadian literature and find stories and metaphors about Canada and Canadians to deepen its responses. I’ll likely have to work on that phrasing a bit to tighten it up, but it’s a start. (Honestly, this is all a start.)

And, I’ll have to bring in both Indigenous perspectives and those outside of a Western canon. The catalog of content for our AI is still missing that — the OAME has a small collection but it’s on my to-do list to go through the Ontario College of Teachers’ Library to pull out some necessary research and other literature to expand the Indigenous perspective and also move beyond preMosaic Canada. (I checked on premosaic — it actually means “pre Moses” from the Bible… but here I mean pre-multiculturalism, when we started to move away from the British & French structures in the 1970s).

Likewise, the Philosophy collection still bends Western — most of that is because of ease of access and fundamental-ness. I mean, Dewey’s Dewey! But, again, some time spent over Christmas will expand the perspective of chatOAME. Honestly, I’m hoping that the feedback I get from the beta testers will raise this issue because I want that theme of disruption to the (admittedly my own) Western-(and male)-centrism to be consistent in our approach! (Beta testers, don’t read that last sentence.)

Does this voice-development have an effect on what our teachers will get? We’ll have to see! The nice thing is we can take it out and run the same prompts and see what the differences are. But I think that while we want our answers to be correct and helpful (most of all!), we do want the assistance that our teachers receive to be phrased in a warm, slyly humourous and definitively Canadian way. We want our teachers to know they are speaking to a Canadian — and an Ontarian. (And yes, we have to think about Franco-Ontarians, too! It’s on the list!)

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calarmstrong
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