AI Tim Ferriss Interviews AI Marcus Aurelius (GPT-3)

As with my other GPT-3 posts, I’ve picked the best responses, but everything other than the bold prompts are written by GPT-3. I used the questions from Tim’s book Tribe of Mentors.

Here’s a transcript from Tim Ferriss’s interview with Marcus Aurelius:

Tim: Thanks for joining me, Marcus. Or should I use your title: Caesar?

Marcus: You may call me Marcus. I do not stand on ceremony.

Tim: Fair enough. So, I want to start at the beginning. What is Stoicism?

Marcus: Stoicism is a philosophy of life. It is a way of looking at the world. It is about seeing clearly what is in front of us and feeling what is in our hearts. It is about doing what is right, no matter what the cost. It is about living according to nature and treating others with kindness and respect.

Tim: I like that. So, what is the goal of Stoicism?

Marcus: The goal of Stoicism is to live a good life, a life in accordance with nature.

Tim: What does that mean?

Marcus: It means doing what we ought to do, not doing what we want to do. It means acting rationally, not emotionally.

Tim: Ok, so how do we do that?

Marcus: By paying attention to what is in our power and not worrying about the rest.

Tim: That’s a great answer, but what does it mean?

Marcus: It means we have control over our actions, our judgments, and our feelings. It means we can choose how we respond to events outside of our control. It means we can choose what to think.

Tim: I like that. So, how do you apply Stoicism to life?

Marcus: By facing the world with a smile and acting with justice, kindness, and honesty.

Tim: I like that too. So, can you give me an example?

Marcus: Sure. When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: These are obstructions.

Tim: That’s a great passage. So, how do we deal with adversity?

Marcus: By recognizing that it is nothing more than what it is: a thing that can be endured.

Tim: That’s hard.

Marcus: It is, but it is also liberating.

Tim: How do you mean?

Marcus: The things that cause us suffering are those that are out of our control. Death, illness, poverty, dishonor, slander, and all such things. If you accept that they are fated to happen, they will lose their power over you.

Tim: That’s a powerful idea. So, how do we deal with pain?

Marcus: The first step is recognizing that pain is an opinion, not a fact. The second is accepting that it can’t be changed. The third is being thankful that it isn’t worse.

Tim: That’s a great way of putting it. So, what’s the best way to deal with other people?

Marcus: Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Tim: What about those who are unkind?

Marcus: They are like children, who are unkind not by choice but because they don’t know better.

Tim: How do we deal with external events that we can’t control?

Marcus: We accept that we have no control over them.

Tim: I like that. I have a question. I’ve heard it said that Stoicism is a cold and emotionless philosophy.

Marcus: That’s not true. Stoics feel all the emotions—they just don’t allow those emotions to determine their behavior.

Tim: So, you’re saying that Stoics don’t repress their emotions?

Marcus: No. The Stoic does not indulge her emotions, but she feels them fully and completely.

Tim: What about death?

Marcus: Death is nothing to us. When we exist, death is not yet present. And when death is present, then we no longer exist. It doesn’t concern us at all.

Tim: That’s a great answer. So, can you sum up Stoicism for me?

Marcus: Sure. I can tell you that it is the art of living. It is about seeing clearly, doing good, and facing adversity. It is about accepting what cannot be changed and freeing yourself from the things that cause you suffering. It is about being strong and kind. It is about seeing the world as it is, not as you want it to be.

Tim: I like that. For a small change of topic, there are a few questions I like to ask. As you may know I’m a huge fan of books and read dozens of them every year. What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Marcus: I’m a big fan of biographies, especially those of the great philosophers and statesmen. I like to read about how others have dealt with adversity and challenges. I also love history books, especially those of the Roman Empire.

Tim: I like that. What about books you’ve read recently that you would recommend?

Marcus: I’ve been reading The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. It’s about how to turn obstacles into advantages.

Tim: That sounds good. I’ll check it out. What about books that have greatly influenced your life?

Marcus: The Enchiridion by Epictetus.

Tim: I guess you like Roman philosophers. What about favorite quotes?

Marcus: I have many favorites.

Tim: Give me some.

Marcus: “It is difficult to fight against one’s natural impulses.”

“Accept life as it comes.”

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

“How much time he saves who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks.”

Tim: I like those. What about favorite movies or TV shows?

Marcus: I’m a big fan of many of the HBO series, such as Rome, The Sopranos, and Game of Thrones.

Tim: What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.

Marcus: I’m a big fan of the Moleskine notebooks. I just ordered the new “junior” version.

Tim: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

Marcus: I failed at many things early in my life. I failed as a student, as an athlete, and as a politician. I failed as a husband and a father. But each failure taught me something about myself and the world. I learned from these failures and became a better man for it.

Tim: If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph.

Marcus: “You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Tim: What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Marcus: Travel. I’ve visited many countries and have learned much from others.

Tim:What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Marcus: I love to swim. I’ve done it every day for years.

Tim: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Marcus: I have no talent for drinking. I must therefore leave it alone.

Tim: I like that. So, what’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?

Marcus: I write in a journal every single day

Tim: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Marcus: I’ve adopted a no-complaining policy. I used to complain all the time about everything. This doesn’t mean I don’t have complaints—it means I keep them to myself.

Tim: What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?

Marcus: Educate yourself. Read as much as you can. Surround yourself with people who are better than you. Don’t waste time on jealousy or resentment. Don’t let your emotions control you. Find a cause that is bigger than yourself and devote yourself to it.

Tim: What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Marcus: “Your gut doesn’t matter.” You must learn to trust your gut and use it to navigate the world.

“It’s too late for this.”

“You’re too old for that.”

“You’ll never be able to do that.”

Tim: In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

Marcus: I’ve learned that it’s better to give a small amount of time to many people than a lot of time to a few people.

Tim: When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

Marcus: I take a break and do some exercise. Then, I get back to work.

Tim: If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Marcus: I would have studied philosophy much earlier in life. It has changed everything for me.

Tim: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? (There’s no right answer. I’m just curious.)

Marcus: I would like to be able to read other people’s minds. I’m pretty good at understanding what others are thinking, but I’d like to be able to read their thoughts directly.

Tim: One last question: What does success mean to you?

Marcus: Finding a purpose larger than yourself and devoting your life to it.

Tim: Thank you, Marcus, I really enjoyed this.

Marcus: It was a pleasure.

If you liked this conversation, I think you’ll like my book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. In the book I deconstruct world-class performers’ routines and habits you can apply to your

AI Fan Fiction or: Barry by Terry Pratchett (GPT-3)

GPT-3 is particularly good at capturing the feeling of a genre or author, as I discovered when I used it to generate a hard boiled detective story about Harry Potter:

A small dingy office, early morning, furniture of the Salvation Army store variety. Sordid atmosphere. Harry Potter, in ratty tweed suit, unpressed shirt, and unshined shoes, sits behind the desk looking haggard, rumpled, and embittered.

The model generates plenty of non-sequiturs, but they’re easy to select out, and the quality of its writing given the right prompt is significantly higher than the average fan fiction you find online. In other words, GPT-3 can already write better fiction than most people in whatever style or fictional universe we want.

What’s more, the process is surprisingly fun – the experiments I’ve done feel similar to playing an old text adventure, except you never run out of canned text and at the end you’ve created a story that’s plausibly worth reading. I expect this process to be even more fun when done socially.

This is why I believe AI fan fiction is going to be a popular use of these models, both by individuals and mass collaborations – maybe with people voting on the best next sentence to the story.

To test this I wrote a script that lets me use GPT-3 to build a story a few lines at a time. I start with a story title and first sentence, then have GPT-3 generate twelve options for how to continue. If I don’t like any of the options I regenerate them. Every time I select an option it’s added to the text and fed back to GPT-3 to generate more options.

Screen Shot 2020-08-06 at 2.48.04 PM

The process is about as fun as playing a video game or watching a good TV show. It feels a little dream-like in that you’re wondering what will happen next while simultaneously trying to guide the story. I think kids in particular will love it and imagine them doing things like inserting themselves into stories with their favorite characters.

The challenge is that the model better at making the next thing happen than it is at having an overarching plot. It can also be difficult to steer the story toward an ending. I didn’t have to generate additional options as much in the beginning, but toward the end I was probably averaging 5-10 regenerations (60-120 suggestions) per decision in order to drive the story toward a resolution. To be fair this is more because I wanted the story to go in a specific direction than it was because none of the options were good.

Another reason I did many regenerations was that I wanted to end the story before I went over the model’s word limit. In other experiments writing longer fiction I started deleting earlier parts of the story which makes GPT-3 lose context on what’s happened.

I have ideas for how to solve this limitation. I’ve had success using GPT-3 to compress large sections of a story into short summaries. By doing this repeatedly you can retain context while generating a longer story.

I also expect there’s a better way nudge the model toward resolving a story because it’s shown that it knows what an ending looks like: often at the end of a story it’ll generate blank lines, add ‘The End’, or start adding non-story text like reviews or comments.

There are parts of the story below that don’t quite make sense, but there are also parts that look like flashes of inspiration, like Death saying “THERE IS NO READINESS, ONLY PUNCTUALITY” and “HOW CAN WATER HAVE PNEUMONIA?”

Because I’m trying to demonstrate the power of the model I’ve adopted the artificial handicap of not being able to edit or add my own words. It’s easy to see the potential of advanced language models as writing tools because I’m already generating interesting content despite these handicaps. Without them it would be far easier: often GPT-3 will generate a continuation that’s almost, but not quite what I want, or I’ll see a promising direction I could point the model in by adding a single line.

(Again, as with my other GPT-3 posts, I picked the best options but other than the bolded prompt didn’t write a single word of the story.)

Here’s a short story by Terry Pratchett.

By Terry Pratchett

Death looked at the man and said ‘HELLO.’
The man statled. ‘Oh no.’
‘Can’t we talk about this?’ Death leaned forward and put his face inches from the man’s nose.
The man quailed, and looked to the side.
‘I’m just not ready,’ he said.
‘You’re supposed to give me time to put my affairs in order,’ the man said.
‘I… have got a cat…’
‘And I haven’t finished my game of chess with the vicar…’
‘Please,’ said the man, ‘please. I’ll do anything.’
Death sighed. He was very tired of doing this. ‘ALL RIGHT,’ he said. ‘TELL ME. WHAT IS IT YOU WANT MOST IN ALL THE WORLD?’
The man looked down at his hands, which were worn and callused. He looked up again. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘there is one thing.’
Death waited.
‘You can’t give it to me,’ said the man. ‘It’s impossible.’
The man stood up, suddenly cheerful. ‘I want to live,’ he said.
‘I know it’s asking a lot,’ said the man. ‘But I’ll be really grateful.’
Death rubbed his chin with a skeletal finger. He thought about this. And then he said, ‘ALL RIGHT. TELL ME. HOW DID YOU DIE?’
‘What? Oh. I died of cold.’
‘COLD?’ Death stared at him. ‘COLD? IN THE SUMMERTIME?’
‘Yes. There was a great flood, and the cold got in everywhere. I had pneumonia.’
‘There was a flash flood. It killed me.’
‘It was in the water.’
‘I don’t know,’ said the man. ‘But it did. It was horrible.’
Death frowned. He could sense that there was something wrong here, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
‘I’m sure.’
Death sighed again. ‘ALL RIGHT,’ he said. ‘WELL, IF YOU ARE SURE…’
He clapped his hands together. There was a small puff of smoke, and then the man was gone.
Death got up and walked across the room. The door opened for him. He stood for a moment in the doorway, watching the rain fall.
‘I know,’ said a voice behind him. Death turned round.
‘Yes. It was me.’
‘No. I started the flood.’
‘Because it was the only way I could think of to meet you.’
Death sighed. He tried not to do it, but somehow he just couldn’t help himself.
The man pulled a small object out of his pocket. It was made of bone. He opened his hand, and a ball of light appeared above it. It spread out into a thousand fragments, which whirled around each other, gaining in speed and brightness.
‘NOW I AM YOU,’ he said.
‘But…’ Death looked down at himself. His robe was starting to fray at the edges. His scythe was losing its edge. His fingers were slightly yellow. He was suddenly aware of a twinge in his knees, and a strange feeling in the small of his back.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I suppose I am.’
‘No more dying?’ said Death.
‘NO MORE DEATH,’ said the new Death.
Death shook his head. ‘This is going to take some getting used to,’ he said. ‘And I’m going to need a new name.’
‘YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE,’ said the new Death.
‘What do you mean?’
‘What to?’
‘Barry?’ said Death.
‘Why Barry?’
‘What about “Mildew”?’ said Death.
‘That doesn’t sound friendly,’ said Barry.
‘No. No, you’re right there. All right, Barry it is.’
‘Yes,’ said Death. ‘I’ve been thinking about that. I think I’d like to be called… Doug.’
‘Thank you,’ said Death.
They walked together through the rain.
‘You know,’ said Death, ‘I was getting rather tired of the whole business, to be honest. You know, the scythe, the robes, the whole nine yards.’
‘It’s been very rewarding, of course. I’ve met a lot of people.’
‘When I got to kill Hitler.’
‘It was. I was quite proud of that one.’
They walked on for a while in silence.
‘What will you do now?’ said Death.
‘I shall miss you, Barry.’
‘Don’t you think it’s a little… unprofessional?’
‘Yes. I suppose you’re right.’
Death thought for a moment. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘There is, isn’t there?’
And the two of them went off, in the rain.


GPT-3 Predicts the Rest of 2020

Well Blake, I’m glad you asked. I took wikipedia’s page 2020 in the United States which currently goes up to August 8 and used GPT-3 to fill in the rest of the year. I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t look good.

(Bold text below is what I gave the model, the rest is generated.)

2020 in the United States

[I had to randomly delete many lines from the Wikipedia article to fit it within the model’s word limit. I haven’t included the remaining lines here.]


August 7 to August 17 – Health officials express concern as 250,000 people, many without face masks and who do not abide by social distancing guidelines, participate in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.[276]

The North Korean nuclear crisis escalates. President Trump declares that he will “totally destroy” North Korea and that the United States is “locked and loaded.” Meanwhile, the North Korean government announces it has “super-mighty preemptive strike” capability, which could potentially destroy an entire US aircraft carrier.[282]

The total number of COVID-19 cases reaches 1.7 million worldwide, with over 30,000 in the United States. Deaths reach nearly half a million.[293]


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announces that the total number of COVID-19 cases worldwide has reached 1.8 million.

President Trump announces that a mass-vaccination program will begin on September 11.[299]

The United States Government orders a mandatory vaccination program for all citizens. This leads to a nationwide series of protests. Many people are vaccinated, but some refuse.

In a news conference, President Trump denies that he or any member of his campaign colluded with the Russian government in the 2016 United States elections. He then calls for the elections to be canceled, citing the threat of COVID-19. He says that it is “better to cancel the election before the virus spreads to the rest of the country” and that he will use emergency powers to make it happen.

Meanwhile, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is admitted to a hospital in Washington, D.C., with a COVID-19 infection.[302]

On September 20, a day before the election, a poll from Fox News shows that incumbent President Trump has a three-point lead over his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden.

The President cancels the election, citing the “realities” of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The United States declares a national state of emergency.

The President appoints General Michael Hayden as the head of the new COVID-19 Commission, which is given the power to suspend civil liberties.

In an emergency session, the United States Congress passes a bill, with support from both Democrats and Republicans, allowing the President to take control of the internet, social media, and all telecommunications in the United States.

The Commission orders the closing of all schools, businesses, and other organizations that are not essential to the national defense.

The United States Army and National Guard are deployed to maintain order.

The United States government orders the evacuation of the nation’s capital.


November 2 – The election is rescheduled for November 2, 2020.

November 4 – Former President Trump is re-elected to a second term.


December 8 – The United States Constitution is suspended by COVID-19 Commission order, ending the United States government.

December 20 – The United States officially becomes a federal military dictatorship.

December 24 – The North Korean government launches a nuclear attack on Honolulu, Hawaii. The attack is believed to be in retaliation for the American nuclear attack on Pyongyang, North Korea, on September 20. The United States government does not deny responsibility for the attack, but states that it is a necessary response to North Korean aggression.

December 27 – In a speech, President Trump reveals that COVID-19 has been developing a vaccine that will be distributed worldwide in January. He also promises to use the vaccine to restore the United States to its former glory.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States becomes a military dictatorship, led by President Trump. In the face of international condemnation, President Trump claims that the United States is still a democracy, but that it is no longer able to support itself as one.

A year later, President Trump’s regime begins the process of restoring the United States as a democracy. In the meantime, the military remains in control of the government, with the constitution suspended and most civil liberties suspended.

One year later, a vaccine is discovered. President Trump and the COVID19 Commission decide to launch a global vaccination program to save the world.

The novel closes with the author, Brad Meltzer, writing from exile in Canada.

The novel is an example of alternative history fiction. It is written as a work of nonfiction and claims to be an accurate representation of the events of the 2020 election. However, the narrative is entirely fictional, as it takes place in an alternative universe.

Brad Meltzer is an American political thriller novelist. Apparently the model thinks our timeline is implausibly dramatic for reality.

(In case it isn’t obvious enough, this post is a joke. GPT-3 does a lot of things, but predicting the future isn’t one of them. I know because the first thing I did was try to generate winning lottery numbers.)