I Asked GPT-3 to Write a Sea Shanty About Biden’s Inauguration

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Written By Thomas Smith

The New York Times called Thomas Smith a "veteran programmer." For over a decade, Smith has led Gado Images, an AI-driven visual content company.

‘So we’ll raise a glass of rum, to Joe Biden’s inauguration’

Sea shanties are in right now. That’s not a hook I ever thought I’d get the privilege to use in an article. But it’s 2021, and here we are.

As the New York Times reportsTikTok users have been taking to the platform to sing epic sea shanties — either real ones or imagined ones about current events. The Times interprets this as a desire to connect with a community during a dark and isolated time since shanties were designed to form quick bonds among sailors and coordinate their collective toil.

Taking to Twitter, journalist Rob Flaherty wrote a tongue-in-cheek post suggesting that Joe Biden’s inauguration speech should be in the form of a shanty to attract more viewers.

Naturally, that got me wondering what such a speech would look like. So I asked OpenAI’s GPT-3 to write one for me.

As a warmup, I gave it the first few paragraphs of President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech and asked it to rewrite the paragraphs as a shanty.

Here is GPT-3’s sea shanty version of Obama’s speech:

Oh, we’re off to inaugurate a President,
An inauguration that’s quite historic!
That we have come this far,
There’s not a soul alive today,
That can recall when we were not free!
Oh, we are free!

“Hail to the Chief,”
We shall not be moved,
We’ll stay and fight,
For it is the most historic of all our Inaugurations!
We’ve come to inaugurate a President,
A President that’s quite historic!
Yes, we’ll sing and cheer,
Our hearts will have no fear,
When we inaugurate this President!
Yes, we’ll sing and cheer,
Our hearts will have no fear,
When we inaugurate this President!

I then gave GPT-3 the prompt “Here is a sea shanty about the inauguration of Joe Biden as President of the United States” as well as a sample of two lines of such a song written by Michele Banks.

Here’s what it came up with (with some off-topic bits removed but nothing added):

Soon will the stimulus come,
to buy your tea and sugar and rum,
To bail out industries,
From Wall Street to the Main.
And soon will come the day,
That Joe will pass the reins,
Of power to his running mate.

Chorus: So we’ll raise a glass of rum, to Joe Biden’s inauguration.
And we’ll drink to Barack, with his new team of economic advisers.
And we’ll drink to John McCain, who said “I’m not too old to run again.”
And we’ll drink to Hillary Clinton, who said “I won’t take no for an answer.” 
And we’ll drink to Joe Biden, who calls a spade a spade.

I love this, and would absolutely dance and swing a mug of grog to it.

We get a bit of prediction for the years ahead, with perhaps a sailing reference worked in (“To bail out industries / From Wall Street to the Main”) and a prediction for the future of the Democratic party in 2024/2028 (“That Joe will pass the reins / Of power to his running mate”).

That’s followed by a rousing chorus about the campaigns of some previous presidential contenders, with deep references to Obama’s team of economic advisors, McCain’s decision to run again in 2008 even eight years after his 2000 campaign, Clinton’s chutzpah, and finally Biden’s reputation for plain-talking.

It’s important to remember that GPT-3 is trained on data that extends only through October of 2019. So it has no knowledge of Biden’s actual presidential campaign, running mate, or election — everything that it’s done here is based on pre-2020 knowledge, which makes the song’s humor and references all the more impressive. In particular, it seems to have inferred that Biden would choose a younger, perhaps more dynamic running mate and pokes fun at that.

GPT-3 is remarkable in its ability to imitate nearly any form of human speech, from blog posts to poems. When the system was trained, it’s unlikely anyone would have predicted the sudden interest in sea shanties. But because of GPT-3’s versatility, it stands ready to write them as soon as someone asks.

Now I just need to find someone to put these shanties to music…

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