Fireside Chats

For this project, we are building an AI chatbot that is trained on the written and spoken corpora of Abraham Lincoln.

“Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the world… enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and space.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

We had great success asking AI to rewrite the Gettysburg Address in different styles, but now we were curious whether it was possible to chat directly with Abe Lincoln, or at least his digital clone. We know that GPT4 can write in the style of different historical figures. Can it also inhabit them? We asked GPT4 to chat with us as if it were Abraham Lincoln. With relatively little prodding, we convinced GPT4 to abandon its AI identity, and to more fully inhabit the Lincoln persona.

We are not the only ones seeking to chat with the dead. In fact, there are now several apps on the market that promise to let users chat with thousands of historical figures, including Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, and, yes, Abraham Lincoln.

As historians, we are concerned that deepfake text (AI-generated text) will be mistaken for the genuine article, and yet we also believe that AI-powered chatbots have enormous pedagogical potential. On these grounds, one of us (Daniel Hutchinson) created Nicolay – an AI powered app that prioritizes fidelity to the historical record.

If you’re not sure where to begin, we recommend that you watch the following video, in which Prof. Hutchinson introduces and explains the Nicolay app.

You can also explore Nicolay’s corpus of Lincoln speeches using the following Voyant data visualization: