It’s a very modern magician’s trick: Create a SXSW talk from scratch using generative AI. That’s what Whurley did this year in Austin.
It took nine weeks for Whurley — a staple of Austin’s tech scene — to create and prepare his keynote at SXSW 2018, where he will debut Strangeworks, a quantum computing startup he co-founded and runs. Five years later, generative AI will complete the task in just a few hours.
And it was actually pretty good. The 45-minute speech was comprehensive, interesting and sounded like Whurley. There was one expletive (his shit) and several jokes (including two lawyer jokes) that had the audience laughing. It seemed like the trickiest part, at least while he was on stage, was reading the script provided by the AI from his tablet. (Worley is known for his freestyle on the SXSW stage, where he’s a regular.)
The kicker? He waited until the end to deliver the punch line.
“Everything today from the slides to the speech I’m reading now was created by generative AI,” he said on stage before beginning to explain the hows and whys of it all. A buzz of whispers, amazement and laughter filled the room filled with hundreds of SXSW attendees.
Strangeworks may be the first startup to use generative AI for all of its content on the SXSW stage and beyond. And while it’s a novel and fun demonstration, the experiment also illustrates the versatility of AI tools and its growing popularity.
Why bother? Exposure and education, Whurley told TechCrunch this week after the event.
“We are on the threshold of the greatest period of technological progress in human history. I feel like people are not only not ready for it, they don’t even know it’s happening. I wanted to bring attention to that,” he said. “We will see more change in the next decade than in the last 100 years. People can talk all they want, but the technological change that is about to happen cannot be stopped. The convergence of quantum computing and AI will be a step function, if not several step functions, for scientific discovery and progress.
The experiment began as many do – with a limited scope. Whurley used generative AI in October 2022 to write an outline for his SXSW lecture titled “Quantum AI: Why Your Future Depends on Quantum Computing and Artificial Intelligence.” And no, he didn’t tell SXSW organizers.
“It all started with a prompt,” he said on stage. “I said write an 800-word summary of South to Southwest. Here’s the concept, here’s the title I gave it and some points, and everything you saw on the South by Southwest website was created by ChatGPT. And I submitted it.
ChatGPT is the AI model for understanding images and text powered by GPT 3.5 and developed by OpenAI. A new version of the core engine, GPT-4, was released on March 14.
His prompt was:
Write an 800-word abstract for a SXSW keynote for a session called “QuantumAI: Why Your Future Depends on the Convergence of Quantum Computing and Artificial Intelligence,” in which the speaker discusses advances in quantum computing and artificial intelligence, the challenges facing our species, and the inevitable a convergence that could lead to a quantum super-intelligence that would forever change our world.
Just days before the featured session at SXSW, Whurley decided to take it a step further. He asked the AI to use the summary to create an outline of what the presentation might look like. After a few tweaks (or “re-doing” as he calls it), the outline met his approval.
This is great, I need to come up with enough slides to discuss this topic for an hour. Can you suggest what a potential baseline would be for a 1 hour conversation on this?
Whurley shared it with his team at Strangeworks and together they decided to go all-in. “At this point, I told them the plan is to start everything needed for the keynote tomorrow at 11:30 in the morning,” he told TechCrunch.
Strangeworks creative team Casey Bartels, Nicole Majeske, and Ada Onyuke used Midjourney, an AI art generation tool, to make the slides and graphics for the presentation. And then they upped the ante again by having Midjourney create the story and graphics in a seven-page print publication featuring Strangeworks mascot Shrody the Cat. The publication was distributed to those present.
“And then the night before, I thought, if we’re going to do an outline and the outline and all the slides, why can’t we just put words in my mouth, too?” he said. Whurley took all of his previous guidelines and incorporated them into the GPT-4, which was released on Tuesday.
In other words, what would become the final script, graphics, and slides were created the morning of the keynote. And they cut it off. “When we arrived at the hotel at almost 11am, I took the final version of the script and cut it up and pasted it into the teleprompter software I had downloaded on my iPad,” he wrote to TechCrunch in a text after the event.
“It’s certainly the biggest risk I’ve taken at SXSW,” he said.
Generative AI was also used to create Whurley’s personal website, which debuted Wednesday and featured hundreds of blogs in Whurley’s voice. He worked with contributor David Hudson of Big Human on the blog project.
These blogs have been deleted to make room for another project that launched on Thursday. The CEO of Strangeworks ran the prompt again via ChatGPT, this time asking him to publish the website and blogs in 10 languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Arabic.
Whurley said the response has been overwhelmingly positive. He noted that a few people who are anti-AI/tech have made mean comments or veiled threats via social media, but “again, detractors are few and far between.”