My father was a juvenile delinquent. Actually, he matured into an adult delinquent but that’s another story for another day.
One of my favorite stories about his misspent youth, involved his gang (and I use the phrase loosely) and their confrontations with a bellicose Irish motorcycle cop. My dad grew up in a large, multi-generational household in the Irish/German town of Mount Vernon, outside of New York City. He was not too good at finding his way to school but never missed an opportunity to find trouble.
When he was 12 years old in the summer of 1941, he and his friends took to skinny dipping in the Bronx River. Every night when they did, this big Irish cop would roll his motorcycle onto a bridge and yell at the kids. Calling them “guttersnipes” he threatened to drag them home by their ears and toss them at their parents’ feet.
Rather than being chastened, the boys decided to use the cop’s belligerence against him. They started to taunt him back. “You are a big, dumb mick. You could never catch us.” Finally they provoked him enough that one night he stripped off his hat and gun belt and dove into the river after them–leaving his motorcycle on the bridge.
The boys, who were in fact younger and faster, doubled back onto the bridge and pushed the cop’s motorcycle into the river. They then ran down the Bronx RIver Parkway, buck naked, carrying their clothes.
The next morning, the local newspaper showed a photo of the motorcycle being hauled out of the river. My father’s grandmother, the head of the household, was horrified. She shook her head and asked “Where were their parents?“. My father, of course, put on his most innocent face and kept his mouth shut.
I could never find that newspaper story or the photo. But I thought that it would be a good challenge for the modern tools of artificial intelligence. I tried several different tools with good, but not perfect success.
The image at the top was the best effort from Dall-E and ChatGPT. But the earlier tries were also interesting.
My prompts became more specific with each iteration from “1930’s police motorycle in a river” which generated the picture above. To “1930s police motorcycle being pulled out of a river by a crane” which generated this image:
The final prompt, that resulted in the image at the top of this article was “1930s police motorcycle being pulled out of a river by a crane underneath a bridge“. I needed to update the prompts to add each element in its proper place.
When I step back, the power of AI, even in these early days is dazzling. However, as everyone is realizing, writing better and better prompts is the key to getting more and more out of AI. Right now, it feels like AI is a 600 HP engine and our prompts are a rubber-band transmission trying to get power to the wheels.
Although this is just a silly story about some dumb kids and a silly attempt to re-create a scene from 80 year ago, I believe that the most valuable lesson is the importance of mixing it up with artificial intelligence. Just as the internet was awkward but ultimately transformational thirty years ago, AI is that way now. The greatest advantage of the internet revolution went to those who jumped in early and endured the chaos and messiness of the early days.
One of my most important learnings of my career is that the future always wins. Don’t waste your energy defending the status quo.