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How sci-fi writer JG Ballard's computer poems predicted ChatGPT – Saturday May 11, 2024

In the 1970s, science fiction writer JG Ballard was intrigued by the growing capabilities of computers – so used one to compose poems. They were a first step on the road to ChatGPT.

The novelist and short story writer JG Ballard, is known for conjuring warped and reimagined versions of the world he occupied. Dealing with strange exaggerations of realities and often detailing the breakdown of social norms, his unconventional works are hard to categorise.

Sitting on the edge of reality, these unsettling visions often provoked controversy. Eschewing a science-fiction of the distant future, Ballard described his own work as being set in "a kind of visionary present".

Today, as we contemplate generative AI writing texts, composing music and creating art, Ballard's visionary present yet again has something prescient and fresh to tell us.

In an interview from 2004, the author Vanora Bennett suggested to Ballard that he writes about "what is just about to happen in a given community". Asked about what "kind of real-life event" inspired the ideas in his fiction Ballard responded:

I just have a feeling in my bones: there's something odd going on, and I explore that by writing a novel, by trying to find the unconscious logic that runs below the surface and looking for the hidden wiring. It's as if there are all these strange lights, and I'm looking for the wiring and the fuse box.

The topics in Ballard's fiction frequently reveal just how highly attuned he was to the subtleties of the emerging technological and social shifts that were, as he puts it, just below the surface. The fuse box of society was often rewired in his ideas.

And with generative AI there is undoubtedly something odd going on, to which Ballard's attention seems to have been drawn long before it even happened.

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