The Butter Crypto NFT Project

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Once in 2 weeks (or as the ever-confusing term goes, biweekly), I do a live stream with a good friend, Pranav Joshi called Patthar Ke Fools. It is a freewheeling conversation about a specific food topic and promises its viewers utter and complete absurdity and a total lack of seriousness. The name itself is a cringeworthy pun on a rather underrated spice called Patthar ke Phool (Stone Flower – a lichen with a smoky, almost truffle-like subtlety used in Tamil and Maharashtrian cooking).  

After 2 episodes on Salt and Sugar respectively, we picked Fats as the theme for Episode 3, and as one does nowadays, I decided to seek the guidance of our Lord and Saviour, ChatGPT, for some inspiration before going live. 

The very first answer made me do a bit of Vadivelian double-take (memorably captured by this gif)

because the idea of using butter as currency seemed, on the face of it, slightly odd. While I’m not necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to personal finance and economics, it doesn’t take a Samurai sword to realize that currencies in general don’t tend to be things that disintegrate at room temperature. I mean, ghee as currency, I can still accept, although liquids tend to present their own challenges when used as monetary instruments. Being financially liquid is not something one interprets literally, but we digress. 

So, before I embarrassed myself going live and boldly claiming that Indians were actually “greasing each other’s palms” with butter back in the day, I asked ChatGPT a follow-up question.

 And I can only imagine that a few million nodes in a neural network did the silicon equivalent of “how dare this puny, cognitively challenged human being ask me for evidence?” because this is how its answer started


And it proceeded to unleash Exhibit A. 

Ok. Cows as currency is not unknown. In fact, they are still valuable commodities of trade among several tribal communities around the world today, but the logical leap from that to butter as currency felt a bit like an Olympic high jumper on anabolic steroids. But it was the next point that intrigued me further.

Alright. Now, very few people have actually read the Atharva Veda, but I’m reasonably familiar with the Mahabharata and I most certainly did not recall any butter-based wager, so I pressed further.

And it responded with the confidence of a techbro claiming that blockchain will solve global poverty

For starters – we need more than a like and dislike button as feedback. There needs to be “Holy Mother of Melmaruvathur” button as well. I mean, I’ve read the Amar Chitra Katha version, I’ve watched the Doordarshan series, and even read the full, unabridged version of the epic, but I do not recall any quadripedal perambulation by Dharmaraja as a penalty for losing that famous game of dice. And I most certainly did not recall him handing over half kg bricks of butter to Duryodhana, Sakuni et al. So at this point, I realized that the bot was, to put it mildly, pulling a fast one, so I decided to investigate everything that Yudhishtira actually wagered and lost in that game. 

So I did just that 

It is pretty obvious the ACK and Doordarshan versions vastly shortened and simplified that infamous game. Here is the full sequence of things that he wagered and lost (along with some value-adding, insightful commentary from me)

  1. Pearls that surfaced during the churning of the ocean – Clearly our man started out small, just to test the waters
  2. Gold and Silver – Like seasoned gamblers do, our man must’ve gone – “Sakuni must have beginner’s luck, so now’s the time to take it to the next level” 
  3. Royal chariot + 8 steeds – This is the part when the dude has no cash left on his person, so he goes “Imma bet my BMW 5-series parked outside” 
  4. 100,000 serving girls who are young, have beautiful earrings, and can serve food 24×7 – 😳 OK. Um. So, at this point, he’s like – “You can have my BPO operation”
  5. 1000 elephants (each one had 8 she-elephants) – I have a warehouse full of trucks. I bet those. 
  6. Warriors – You can have my army
  7. Super famous Gandharva Stallions – I bet my mutual funds
  8. 10,000 draught animals – You can have my farmhouse near Gurgaon
  9. 400 sheets of copper and iron – I wager my mining operations in conflict zones
  10. (Not kidding – this is from the original) tens of thousands and millions and millions and tens of millions and hundreds of millions and tens of billions and hundreds of billions and trillions and tens of trillions and hundreds of trillions and tens of quadrillions and hundreds of quadrillions and even more wealth – At this point, Yudhishtira was running NFT and Crypto scams to continue to be in the game
  11. Lots of milch cows and goats – Aha, 100,000 serving girls, a fuckton of jewellery and a savanna-ful of herbivores later, he finally gets to his most precious possession – cows and goats. 
  12. Entire city and country minus the Brahmins who advise him – As they say in the business, consultants never lose
  13. Princes – At this point, we’ve entered human-trafficking territory
  14. Nakula – Hmmm..let me think. Who is the most useless of the Pandavas?
  15. Sahadeva – Tell me again what this chap does? 
  16. Arjuna – Hmm, this fellow always had a very high opinion of his archery skills
  17. Bhima – I wager Ser Gregor Clegane 
  18. Himself – I got nothin’ else
  19. Draupadi – Oh wait, I still have my wife who I technically cannot wager cos I am now property of Duryodhana but WTH Lulz worth a shot

Anyway, the crux of the matter is that there was no butter being wagered among all the jewellery, mineral resources, livestock and human beings. So, why did ChatGPT make this stuff up? If you are expecting a deep, technical analysis of Large Language Models, you will be disappointed. I can’t debug it any more than its own developers can. Turns out, explainability is indeed a bit of a problem, but a few other thoughts did come to mind.

It’s not like human beings don’t make stuff up. We do it all the time. In fact, one of my LinkedIn core competencies is the ability to stitch together 4 threads of fact with 100 threads of creative fabrication. Eyewitnesses regularly make stuff up under oath. Godmen regularly claim to confabulate with the divine. Children make up excuses with hilariously cute incompetence. Maybe we are also probabilistic auto-complete machines powered by wetware instead of software? 

I don’t know. Maybe I should ask ChatGPT. 


17 responses to “The Butter Crypto NFT Project”

  1. Raman Viswabarathy Avatar
    Raman Viswabarathy

    Hi Krish,

    Loved your blog. Hilarious. I am intrigued by ChatGPT as well and I’m also a great fan of the Mahabharata. So this was quite a fun read !!

    I really like your videos too. You keep it real. Thank you!!


  2. Nrimaami Avatar

    So good to be back on your blog after so many years. This was a fun read. May be kali kaalam is a bot making up history 🤷‍♀️

  3. Swaramita Avatar

    This is pure gold – every line of thought to verify ChatGPT claims are so comprehensibly and hilariously decomposed!

  4. ChatGPT hallucinations – II – Where curiosity takes the cat Avatar

    […] Krish Ashok went on his journey of seeing the hallucinating underbelly of ChatGPT when he stumbled upon the chatbot saying that butter was used in ancient India as a currency. In this funnily compiled article, Krish details how ChatGPT doubled down on the butter currency fact it made up by creating weird wages that Yudhishtra made in Mahabharata. […]

  5. Rahul Avatar

    A fun read, and some good food for thought (thought for food?) at the end there regarding defining human creativity. Have admired your work for a long time, was very happy to see that you had a new blog post up after so long!

  6. Shaneem Avatar

    Great article.
    I asked this question again to ChatGPT. It’s answer now is
    “No, butter was not used as a wager in the game of gambling in Mahabharata. As per the epic, Yudhishthira wagered his wealth, chariots, horses, elephants, brothers, himself, and his wife Draupadi, but there is no mention of butter being used as a wager.

    It is possible that you are referring to a different story or legend where butter was used as a wager. If you can provide me with more details or context, I may be able to provide a more specific answer.”

    1. krishashok Avatar

      LOL. So I asked it again today and it still gave me this answer 😅 That makes it worse cos there is no guarantee that everyone is getting the same answer!

      1. The Visitor Avatar
        The Visitor

        From what I’ve read about people’s reactions to ChatGPT’s responses, I get that ChatGPT gives responses that would most likely fit in with the questioner’s world view. So if persons having diametrically opposite worldviews asked the same question they are likely to get entirely different responses. So in addition to collecting content, ChatGPT (in its current form) also assembles information based on the questioner’s worldview.

        PS: Just my theory – but worth investigating.
        PPS: I have myself not used ChatGPT, and am too lazy to give it a try.

  7. Rohsharan Avatar

    From the original post to the last thread I can only conclude that Chat Gpt”s “transformer algorithm” that it uses is true to its name – transform to perform even if it means inconsistent performance!! 🤗

  8. kripea Avatar

    But um, why did we only enter “human-trafficking territory” when Princes became involved and not for the 100,000 serving girls, warriors, and the entire citizens of his kingdom that came before that!

  9. RT Avatar

    Love that you’re back blogging! You’re great in video but it’s in writing that th SHINE.

  10. Cobwebs Avatar

    I was so happy to see a blog update!

    My bet would be that since its other responses seem to indicate that ChatGPT thinks that cows are mainly butter-producing machines, it looked at #11 in the wager list and went, “cows equal butter with a couple of extra steps, therefore the wager was really butter.”

  11. P James Magic Show Avatar

    P James Magic Show 9841072571

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