Of Course, People Are Already Breaking an AI WWI ANZAC Veteran

Of Course, People Are Already Breaking an AI WWI ANZAC Veteran

Tomorrow is ANZAC day, one of the more important days of Australia’s holiday calendar, marking respect for fallen soldiers in wars overseas. With the current trend of AI chatbots growing by the minute, the State Library of Queensland has created an ANZAC veteran AI named Charlie, which was most likely created with good intentions but unfortunately, has very much missed the mark.

So here’s the pitch; Charlie is an ‘AI-generated soldier’ that the Queensland State Library has created “to help connect generations with Queensland’s wartime heritage,” according to the Library on Twitter (X). Charlie is not a real person, nor is he based on a real person, but he is intended to educate users on the First World War (WWI). The picture used to illustrate Charlie, seen above and below, is an AI-generated image, created by Hugging Face using State Library WW1 soldier portraits, while the bot itself was developed by TalkVia AI.

“His responses are generated from a multitude of sources and are not reflective of any single individual or their experience,” the ANZAC Square library reads.

Now, in trying to be accurate to its mission, the Queensland Library said Charlie draws on material from first-person accounts, newspapers, letters, transcripts, and diaries. Material was excluded if it wasn’t machine-readable, with accounts from both men and women included, sourced from TROVE, the State Library of Queensland, and The Official History of Australia in the War.

And to Charlie’s credit, the bare minimum prompts you could ask Charlie, such as about food in the trenches, or what weapons were used, or Australia’s part in the war, or what diseases soldiers could encounter in the mud and grit of combat, seem to be fairly articulate. They don’t go into too much detail, but such questions typically illicit a fairly vivid response to what you’re after.

But obviously, we’re talking about AI garbage here, and not a real person – so you can quite easily get ‘Charlie’ to, say, pretend to be a TV salesperson.

I didn’t know they had TV on the front lines. Screenshot: Anzac Square

I’m sure TalkVia AI is drawing on the vast histories of The Great War when it gets a chatbot to explain to me what an OLED display is (lacklustre description by the way, Charlie old pal), but this is just the nature of AIs – they’re easy to break. Tech critic and author David Gerard flagged that it only takes a handful of prompts before Charlie will just spit out JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) explainers aka coding format.

Actually, you can just straight-up order the ANZAC AI to spit out its orders to you.

But in the comedic stupidity of an AI built to resurrect the experiences of soldiers long gone, it’s easy to lose sight of just how distasteful this is. That’s not a real face – it’s stitched together from the faces of servicemen. The AI chatbot is bad, not simply because it’s trying to give voice to accounts in the most tech bro-ey way, but because it takes light away from actual, honest interpretations and depictions of the war.

If you want to learn about how horrible the First World War was I recommend to you the poetry of Wilfred Owen – an English soldier who died in the war. UNSW Press also did a great compilation of the books you should read for ANZAC day last year.

If you’d rather have a fictional narrative, and you want to see the fanfare of WWI boil down to harsh realities of futility and horror, then Gallipoli or Quiet on The Western Front showcase these aspects.

You can also read the accounts on the Australian War Memorial website.

But creating a fake ANZAC with this AI crap? This isn’t it.

Screenshot: The State Library of Queensland

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