ChatGPT has been one of the internet’s favorite toys for months now, but people are still finding novel and fun ways to use the AI chatbot. Case in point is this rhyming E Ink clock created by designer and blogger Matt Webb. It uses ChatGPT to create a short two-line rhyme that also tells the time for every minute of the day. It’s incredible and we want one.
Speaking to The Verge over DM, Webb explained that the clock is powered by an old Inky wHAT screen and a Raspberry Pi that he previously had set up as a regular text clock. He’s been playing around with OpenAI’s language models for a while and had the idea of connecting the two.
“There’s a single prompt to ChatGPT, and the clock uses OpenAI’s API. The time is a parameter to the prompt. The prompt instructs the AI to respond with two rhyming lines, and encourages it to be imaginative and profound,” said Webb.
He also notes that the prompt to ChatGPT explains the physical setup of the room and the clock’s location in it, which means the clock is able to speak as a physical presence, as in the example below. “In cozy shelves, I do reside, / It’s nearly noon, the clock confides.”
“In cozy shelves, I do reside, / It’s nearly noon, the clock confides.”
Webb says that the clock generates new text for each time it displays, rather than drawing from a preset catalog, and that he uses ChatGPT because it’s the cheapest option but would prefer to connect it to GPT-3.
“If I were an AI sommelier I’d say that ChatGPT is an easier drink with a long finish, very smooth, but GPT-3 is more complex and spicy,” says Webb (who also describes his work as that of an “AI sommelier”). “It’s tight with its words and has a better vocab. But not quite worth 10x the cost for something sitting on my bookshelves.”
Webb has experience in building this sort of gadget as he was previously CEO and co-founder of design studio BERG, which created a number of pleasingly physical digital doodads, including — my favorite — Little Printer. This was a tiny thermal ink receipt printer that printed out a daily digest of news headlines, meetings, and all sorts of customizable input, from friends’ birthdays to social media notifications.
Webb says the reaction to his rhyming AI clock has been so enthusiastic that he’s now exploring two routes to take the project mainstream. First, providing a kit for hackers to build their own, and second, creating a commercial product that’s plug-and-play. It’s easy to imagine extra functionality that could be built in, too — like a knob that lets you adjust the tone of the tiny poems, from hopeful to morbid, depending on your mood.
Webb wants to sell the clock as a DIY kit and a finished product
Webb says he’s still exploring options and has no clear idea of when these might be available or how much they’ll cost. (You can sign up for updates here.) “My priority is to get this into people’s hands so I’m pushing on both routes simultaneously.” He adds that a “big piece of the puzzle” has been creating a custom backend to send out times to multiple clocks. The daily cost of making API calls to ChatGPT for the poems was $1.80 a day — far too much for each clock owner to pay, but very little when spread across numerous units.
There’s one other problem, though. It’s well known that AI language models like ChatGPT have a tendency to make up data (sometimes known as “hallucinations”), and it turns out that’s true even if you’re just telling the time. Roughly once every 15 minutes, says Webb, the clock will simply lie about the time just to make a certain rhyme work. “The fibbing is hilarious. Sometimes you can’t tell — it might say ‘one past two’ when it’s actually ‘two past one,’” he says. He says this will be fixable but, for now, is a fun quirk of the system. “Clockwork means you get precision drift; AI-work means you get hallucination drift.”