The Brave Little Stump

The Brave Little Stump
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
Create the cover of a children's book about a plucky little tree stump who overcomes adversity.

I wrote this prompt for DALLE, hoping to see what generative artificial intelligence could do. Initially, I thought it might turn out something you might see ranked mid-tier in the self-published zone on Amazon. Since robots are already good enough to paint Rembrandts, drive their own cars and write scientific papers, I thought it might be serviceable for children's literature.

I wasn't trying to freak myself out with a sense of replaceability. Most humans with jobs are getting that feeling that you had in high school when a new kid moved to town who was just way cooler than you. Doubly so if whatever social capital you had desperately scraped together depended on a skill (like drawing, for me) in which the newcomer was vastly more adept.

Artificial intelligence does a damn good job at generating images. It's not fantastic at being a veterinarian,¹ so I guess I still have a day job unless it figures out a good treatment for aural hematomas. But I thought it was supposed to suck at things that take practical knowledge (say, conceptualizing a Russian nesting doll, or understanding the historical appearance of Popes). The stakes seem higher in my alternative life as a creative.

I wondered. Could ChatGPT and DALLE make a children's book? And could they make it good? If so, why bother spending any time struggling to do it myself? Agonizing over the exact right word or line placement? If I could just log on, prime the pump, then sit back and relax, wouldn't life be a whole lot easier? Maybe this was the way to finally go viral!

When I saw what it did with the cover, I was blown away. Damn, that was perfect. I had to see more. So we (the robot and I) made it. Our story begins thus:

One morning, Stumpy woke up to find something terrible had happened. Someone had cut him down!
But who? Was it a disgruntled lumberjack? A greedy developer? Would he ever see over the treetops again?
Then, for no reason at all, Stumpy became anthropomorphic! He shared his sad story with a passing hiker. She wanted to help.
She taught Stumpy how the harsh realities of the world. He'd have to earn his keep! Bizarrely, he lost his (recently acquired) legs and put her water bottle on his head.
This gave him a great idea! For no f***ng reason at all, he turned into a chipmunk!
"Wait... what?" said the prompter.
"Stop that! Stop being a chipmunk! Who the hell told you to do that?!", the prompter said angrily.
But Stumpy was determined! He had an idea, and by golly he wasn't going to let anyone stop him!
As a tree, he didn't understand practical things. But the plastic water bottle had given him a clearer view of the world. He knew how to get back to the top!
Quickly transforming back into a stump for some unknowable reason, Stumpy began the full-scale liquidation of his surrounding natural resources. And technology helped! It was sooooo lucrative!
Stumpy grew his timber harvesting firm. And... became a teddy bear? Anyway, he learned that it's better to take advantage OF, rather than BE taken advantage of. Plus, he got his old view back!²

  1. It does a decent job reading through medical records and cleaning up discharge instructions.
  2. Try as I might, I couldn't get the AI to add any subtext about the disruptive power of new technology and it's worrying ownership by elites who will likely further consolidate their political and material control over everyone else. Oh well, maybe when GPT5 comes out!
Greg Bishop

Greg Bishop

A veterinarian with unquenchable creative impulses. Unquenchable? Hmmm... creative "tendencies"? Well, it depends on how well I slept last night. Also a writer, illustrator and whatever-elser.