AI, the Pancake, and Me

Grandchildren are good for a lot of things. One of them is keeping you up to date on the latest technology so you can at least bluff your way through a conversation about zoom,, tik tok… although as I write this I realize I am showing how far behind I already am. Things are happening so fast it makes my head spin. I grew up with the electric typewriter and then the word processor and then the computer, and now I’m faced with Artificial Intelligence, the infamous AI.

I turned to my grandson for help. “It’s incredible,” he began. He went on to describe the essay that AI wrote for him. “I just wanted to see what it could do,” he quickly added. “I just did it once.” [Footnote: his school in Germany now requires all written assignments to be done with pen and paper in class for obvious reasons. I feel for the teachers, correcting papers of highschoolers who never learned to write cursive, but I digress.] We chatted about AI art and how it can take a grandson’s voice and create a fake phone call that would fool a grandma. And then he asked me if I had seen the “AI Pancake”? I will include the link below if you want to see it.

This is clearly a human-made pancake… check out the AI pancakes

But for those of you who are YouTube averse, here is what you will see:  The narrator has asked AI to create a one-dollar pancake. On the screen sits a stack of sad pancakes on a cheap plate, no syrup, no nothing. “Make a 10-dollar pancake,” is the next order. On the screen is a stack of pancakes with a medley of fruit on top, and syrup. There is a tablecloth, a glass of orange juice on the side, a nicer plate, a view out the window. “Make a100-dollar pancake,” and it is magnificent, on a gold rimmed plate, a mound of caviar on top, a glass of champagne on the side. “Make a 1,000-dollar pancake,” and now we’re rolling, with gold embossing on the top pancake, elegant plates, a view of the New York skyline out the window and a waiter standing in the background, I guess in case you need help pouring your syrup.

“Make a million-dollar pancake,” and we’re on a luxury yacht, ocean waves out the window, a high stack of perfect pancakes, surrounded by unidentifiable but very expensive decorative edibles, finest flatware, but wait, there’s more. “Make a billion-dollar pancake.” We are in a space ship with a view of the cosmos out the window, the pancakes are topped with a magical space orb, and are drenched in gems, the plate is solid gold. I am gasping at this point. Where will it end? My grandson is bursting with anticipation. “Wait til you see the last pancake, grandma!”

“Make me a priceless pancake,” is the order to AI, and on the screen, in soft light, is a smiling, apron-clad mother, spatula in hand, about to lift the pancake from the frying pan, her tousle-haired son in the background, waiting eagerly. The kitchen is humble, a refrigerator decorated with kids’ art, simple curtains, morning light streaming in…that pancake is priceless.

My grandson was giddy, “So amazing!” I was stunned. How did AI do that? How does he/she/it/they know us? I marveled over it for days, and as I did, a long-lost memory emerged. Not that many years ago, there was a TV ad for a credit card – Mastercard, I think — that showed a series of images of people buying things with the price in the corner of the screen, spending money on trips, golf clubs, fancy meals, concerts, whatever, charging it all, able to have a good life thanks to that card in the wallet. The last image was something like a father and son fishing in a mountain stream, twin sisters blowing the candles out on a birthday cake, or who knows, maybe a mom serving pancakes. The tag line was “…… priceless.” It was a great ad. I know because I always tear up for the really good ones.

So, I concluded AI is not a superhuman power that can see into my heart. AI is a highly sophisticated tool that in milliseconds can comb through tons of data that we have put out there about ourselves. Commercials, books, magazines, movies, songs, news feeds, reality shows, sports events, cooking shows, art exhibits, everything that it can get its “hands” on. AI was able to whip up that astounding series of pancakes by filtering through thousands of hints, including that credit card ad, about where the human soft spots are, how to build suspense, what “priceless” can mean. It’s a feat to be admired, but it’s not being human. It’s a super-comb that can pick and choose and create based on what it finds.

I am relieved that – if I am right – AI is not a “thinking” being out to get us. There is an explanation for this pancake trick: AI is just mirroring back to us what we have put out there.  And I am discouraged that we can be defined by what is on the internet. All that stuff – from the magnificent to the disgusting – is not us. We are more than that. We are the ones that tear up at a commercial. I’d like to see AI try that!

Here is the link for the “priceless pancake”

12 thoughts on “AI, the Pancake, and Me”

  1. Interesting read, as always, Lucy. Your post makes me think we should save our journaling so your grandson’s children can read human thoughts that AI cannot produce.

    1. Good idea, Rhea. I can’t even imagine what we of this era will look like to future generations. And if technology keeps becoming extinct, like old floppy disks, of which I have dozens, those ancient journals and letters will be “priceless.”

  2. But AI could only reflect back to us what it found. There must have been a lot of data out there about what “priceless” means to humans, and it’s not wealth and the trappings of wealth. I find that very encouraging, both about AI and about human beings.

    1. Good for you, Kay! You’re right. AI could have combed through the data and come up with a bigger, gaudier more outrageous pancake.

  3. Lucy,
    I relate to the thought that technology has zoomed past me and many others in our generation. It concerns me in an election year, just what politician’s “priceless campaign ads” may look like. And will we be fooled? After all, those priceless pancakes look mighty good!

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