As Masons, we are encouraged to study the seven liberal arts and sciences. The trivium refers to the first three - grammar, logic, and rhetoric. People employ these language arts to communicate, tell stories, and make persuasive arguments. The arts of the trivium have been practiced by humans throughout history.
However, the ability to utilize grammar, logic, and rhetoric is not necessarily unique to humanity anymore. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been developing for some time, and there have been many predictions that its rise will bring forth changes to our civilization. We have seen some AI examples over the past couple of years - facial recognition, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa, to name a few. Recently, a company called OpenAI released ChatGPT, a language model that can generate human-like text based on the input it is given. What does that mean? Basically, the AI can have interactive conversations, write essays, summarize texts, etc., based on data used in its training.
Even though ChatGPT can have interactive conversations, it is not sentient. The AI is trained to recognize patterns from numerous online information sources. The developers further teach it to refine the conversations, making them more natural. However, the AI is only as good as the base material to which it is exposed. So, it isn’t perfect and has the potential to be biased. We have already seen examples of other AI tools that have demonstrated racial biases, such as facial recognition systems.1
Since so many people have been talking about ChatGPT lately, I decided to give it a try. What did I ask it about? Masonry, of course! The first task I gave the AI was to write a poem about Entered Apprentice Masons. Here is what it wrote:
Entered Apprentices, just at the start,
Of a journey through the art of the heart.
With a thirst for knowledge, and a quest for truth,
They seek to understand, the ways of the brotherhood.
In the lodge, they learn, of the ancient craft,
Of the tools, the symbols, and the secrets that last.
Of the wisdom of the ages, and the power of the mind,
And the strength that comes, from being truly kind.
With the square and compass, as their guide,
They walk the path of the Freemason's stride.
With each step, they gain, a deeper understanding,
Of the beauty of life, and the joy of expanding.
So here's to the Entered Apprentices, so bright and bold,
With a heart full of hope, and a spirit so cold.
May they always find, the truth that they seek,
And may their journey, through the Masonic brotherhood, be unique.
Not too bad, right? The part that talks about Entered Apprentices having “a spirit so cold” does not make a lot of sense, though. ChatGPT must have gone for an easy rhyme!
Then I wanted to see if ChatGPT could create something even better. Since it is capable of replicating patterns, I asked it to write a Masonic poem in the style of William Shakespeare. The AI generated this:
Shakespearean Masonic Poem
From East to West and North to South, we meet with one accord,
In temple grand and sumptuous, where light and love outpour'd.
In unity and peace, our bonds of friendship we'll entwine,
And to the world, our message send, of wisdom, hope and thine.
With gavel, compass, and square, we craft our work so fine,
And on the plumb, we'll make it true, with beauty and design.
The lessons we impart, of strength, of faith, of liberty,
Are gifts to men of every land, in truth, in love and charity.
So hear ye, brethren, of this craft, so noble and divine,
In whom the light of wisdom shines, as bright as stars that shine.
May our work be true, our hearts be pure, our hands be firm and strong,
That to the world, we may impart, the message of our song.
I think the Shakespearean poem was an improvement over the Entered Apprentice poem, but is it better than what a person could write? AI can replicate patterns and generate content, but these systems cannot experience emotions. We call grammar, logic, and rhetoric liberal arts for a reason. Great stories and persuasive arguments are able to reach people on an emotional level. While AI is becoming more sophisticated, it is still important for people to study trivium!
SITNFlash. “Racial Discrimination in Face Recognition Technology.” Science in the News, 26 Oct. 2020, https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2020/racial-discrimination-in-face-recognition-technology/.
Jim Stapleton is the Senior Warden of USS New Jersey Lodge No. 62. He is also a member of the New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786. Jim received the Distinguished White Apron Award from the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. He was awarded the Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award. Jim is also a member of the Society of King Solomon.