In the 1960s, Ted Nelson coined terms such as hypertext and hypermedia. Much less known is his coinage of the term, stretchtext.
Stretchtext is similar to zooming in for more detail or out for a summary. It never took off the way that hypertext did through the World Wide Web. (Note: HTML supports one-way links, not the superior two-way links that Nelson proposed, in which each node knows what other nodes are linked to it.)
The current “AI” chat systems offer a possible means to accomplish Nelson’s stretchtext.
Can ChatGPT do stretchtext?
I just presented ChatGPT with a paraphrase of some text at the end of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: “The answer to the riddle of life is that there is no riddle.” It responded this way:
As an AI language model, I don’t have a personal belief or opinion, but I can tell you that the idea of there being no riddle to life is one philosophical perspective. Some people believe that life simply exists and that there is no inherent meaning or purpose to it. From this perspective, there is no riddle or puzzle to solve; life just is. Others may argue that there is a meaning to life, but it is subjective and varies from person to person. Ultimately, what the answer to the riddle of life is, if there is one, remains a matter of debate and personal interpretation.
This missed Wittgenstein’s entire point that one can’t properly formulate a question about life’s meaning, but as an elaboration of what I gave it, CharGPT’s response isn’t bad.
I then asked “Can you say more about that?” thinking of Nelson’s stretching of a text. It said “Certainly!” and then proceeded to expand its original 100 word response to 300 words. It brought in existentialist philosophy, the individual’s freedom and responsibility in creating meaning, humanistic and spiritual traditions.
Could I have continued to get it to write a book on the topic?
I decided not to pursue that but to ask, “Could you say it more succinctly?” It came back with 76 words.
I pushed on:
Please summarize that in fewer words.
The meaning of life is a complex and subjective question. Some believe life has no inherent meaning, while others see it as subjective or objective. Ultimately, it depends on an individual’s beliefs and experiences.
Can you state that more briefly?
The meaning of life is subjective and varies among individuals.
Meaning of life varies individually.
Life’s meaning is subjective.
Life’s meaning subjective.
Finally, it emphatically gave up:
Say it with fewer words.
Life’s meaning subjective!
My little experiment says that ChatGPT does a reasonable job on what Ted Nelson imagined. I’d now like to say things like “expand this chapter into a book” or “condense it into an abstract, a title, or even one word, or three, if it insists.