AI Flunks the Proust Test

My brilliant friend Dr. Rolph-Morales was fascinated by recent developments in artificial intelligence, and did some research to investigate how helpful it might be. While she was at it, she looked up Proust quotes to see what would turn up, and she sent me this one:

Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone 

have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces.

So yes, this is a Proust quote. But out of context, it hardly describes the Proustian mindset. If you’ve reached this point in the totality of the work, by now you know that the author is a flaming neurotic himself, since he knows their way of thinking everything beyond mental gridlock so well. However, the character responsible for this particular line is the insufferable Dr. Boulbon, who may be irritating, but he also gets that the intense cogitations of neurotics produce epic works.

Reading this quote out of context, you might think that of all the great things that Proust could attribute to his fellow neurotics, the very first would be religions. But it’s not. Proust was hardly religious himself, although he loved churches for their sumptuous aesthetic. The person who immediately thinks religion is the greatest thing given us by neurotics is a character crafted to be intentionally annoying.

While it may be true that any list of Proust quotes is guilty of the same limitations, those of AI run deeper. This new technology may be able to record and spit out everything in Proust on demand, but what is missing is subtlety. Is AI capable of spotting irony, metaphor, idiom, allusion, or other clever applications of language? Until it is, the human reader remains more capable, not to mention having the very distinct advantage of enjoyment.

By P Segal

P Segal, nee Roberta Pizzimenti, was born and raised in San Francisco's North Beach. where the remaining Beat poets, regrettably, inspired her to pursue the literary life. A Cacophony Society event, the Marcel Proust Support Group, led to the obsession recorded in these pages.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: