AI With A Whiskey Chaser




Widespread use of large language model AI is going to distort public education, research, and general knowledge in ways scarcely imaginable.

Most people are utterly unaware that even an “old-fashioned” Google search is subject to opaque ranking methods and keyword “auctions” which affect the search results we see.

Large language model AI is far worse.  In its current iteration, it simply collects the most commonly repeated answer to any given question, by scouring vast amounts of text.

It then regurgitates this text in a convincingly crafted way which resembles a well-researched, balanced, properly considered and thoughtful expert opinion.

For those who care to double-check the sources used by AI, they will quickly discover that AI is often using “sources” which themselves often cite worthless or non-primary sources.


While recently working on an article tangentially related to Jack Daniel (he of the whiskey distillery fame), I thought I would compare two main sources used by almost everyone today – ChatGPT and Wikipedia.

I simply asked for a brief biography of Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel.

Here is the first paragraph of ChatGPT‘s offering:

“Jack Daniel, born Jasper Newton Daniel on September 5, 1846, was an American whiskey distiller and the founder of the renowned Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey brand. He was born into a large family in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and orphaned at a young age. A local preacher and distiller, Dan Call, took him under his wing, teaching him the art of whiskey making.”

This is astonishing, as ChatGPT is repeating the “official” story told throughout most of the 20th century, a story we now know to be untrue.

Jack Daniel DID go to work for Dan Call, and Dan Call DID own a small distillery.  But Call was a busy man between his grocers store and church work, which meant his distillery was run by slaves.  The master distiller who personally taught Jack Daniel how to make Tennessee-style whiskey was a Black gentleman named Nathan Green, better-known as “Nearest Green” post-emancipation.

One of the least understood aspects of slavery – especially in a Southern Appalachian context – is the fact that compared to the situation in the Deep South, “field slaves” were relatively rare.  In the eastern half of states like Kentucky and Tennessee, slaves were just as likely to be skilled laborers, craftsmen and tradespeople. Not all slaves were “owned” outright by the people for whom they worked – many were hired-out on job contracts on a short- or medium-term basis by “slave rental” agencies.

Nearest Green had been hired from such an agency, specifically due to his skills as a distiller.  Whenever we hear someone repeat the received wisdom that Appalachian whiskey distilling was a distinctly “Scots-Irish” thing, it is worth remembering that the Caribbean sugar industry, with its side industry of rum production, had produced generations of enslaved people highly skilled in the art and craft of spirit distillation.  Such people were much sought after, and slaveholders and people who “rented” slaves paid a premium for those with skills and experience in blacksmithing, carpentry, bricklaying, or distillery work.

Wikipedia does mention Nathan “Nearest” Green, but falls down with this tidbit – a typically dubious account of Southern Appalachian ancestry common across the internet:

“Jack was the youngest of 10 children born to his mother, Lucinda (Cook) Daniel, and father Calaway Daniel. After Lucinda’s death, his father remarried and had three more children. Calaway Daniel’s father, Joseph “Job” Daniel, had emigrated from Wales to the United States with his Scottish wife, the former Elizabeth Calaway. Jack Daniel’s ancestry included English, and Scots-Irish as well.”

If we follow up the source given for the origin of Jack Daniel’s grandfather (Wales), the source actually says no such thing.  This source was an article published in 1972, quoting from a biography written by Ben E. Green in 1967, and it actually suggests that Jack Daniel’s grandfather MAY have come from England via Scotland to America.  But again, this is based on rather fanciful-sounding lore passed down by the family of Lemuel “Lem” Motlow, a politician and horse breeder who inherited ownership of the Daniel distillery (Motlow’s mother was a sister of the childless Jack Daniel).

The earliest DOCUMENTED ancestor of Jack Daniel actually lived in New Bern, North Carolina during the late 1700s, and migrated into Tennessee about 20 years after the American Revolution.

The “source” for “Scots-Irish” ancestry offered on Wikipedia is a dead link which once connected to an unknown blogger’s web page.

The truth is that we have no primary documentary sources showing the pre-America origins of Jack Daniel’s family at all.

His ethnic origins fade into the mists of colonial era America, like so many others from humble backgrounds.

In fairness to Jack Daniel himself, during his own lifetime he gave full credit to the skills of Nearest Green, and never disguised his respect for the man who had helped make him rich.

AI is already “training” itself with AI-generated content, and will end up eating itself.  It is of extremely limited value to those seeking a proper understanding of complex subjects and issues.


#AI #history #jackdaniel #nearestgreen

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