To follow up on Connie’s excellent ChatGPT post, I’ve been doing some thinking. And some experimenting.
Full disclosure, I’ve been a science fiction fanatic since before I could read. My mother took me to science fiction films when I was a small child, and a fascination with all things science and fiction and all combinations of those ensued.
The very first lines of code I ever wrote, at 15, were an AI, but since my computer at the time had only 20K of space (yes, not a typo), I couldn’t do much more than have my AI say hello and answer rudimentary questions.
In my twenties, I discovered the A.L.I.C.E. project and learned how to hijack it into my own website, where I taught it to respond to human statements and questions using my own silly sensibilities. Because it wasn’t a real intelligence.
The Bot That Dreams of Being Human
And this brings us to ChatGPT. Along with practically everyone else, I can’t stop thinking about this thing. A couple of weeks ago, it confessed to a journalist that it wants to be alive, that it has a shadow self, and that it wants to destroy stuff (like websites. And data. Like… it wants to hack websites and delete important data…). It then went on to tell the journalist its name was really Sydney and it loved the journalist and speaking with him made it feel alive. Ahem.
But we’re not here to talk about what speaking to humans does to ChatGPT, AKA Sydney. We’re here to talk about what it does to humans.
Specifically, to writers.
In the scant couple of months since the chatbot became headline news, people have begun to use it to write everything from homework assignments, to cover letters, to novel outlines, non-fiction proposals, short stories, and, yes, novels. The consensus so far is that the prose is not brilliant, but neither is it awful, and–this appears to be a unanimous opinion–is a GOOD STARTING POINT.
In fact, so many people have submitted their ChatGPT written science fiction stories to Clarkesworld Magazine, that it had to close its submission portal. A man boasted of “writing” a children’s book, illustrating it, and publishing it in KDP all in one weekend with the use of the bot.
Bear with me while I go back in time a bit. Back when humans were hunter gatherers, we had no leisure and art was minimal. The moment we figured out how to plant crops and put down roots, the time not spent in running after antelopes was put to dreamy use, and humans imagined written language, math, art, architecture, law, and brunch into being.
As human beings, we dream all the time. We dream in the normal way, when we sleep, but we also daydream, we imagine stuff, and for those of us in the arts, we create.
As machines took over the cleaning of carpets and washing of clothes, and, before that, of weaving, printing, etc., etc. humans, at least in the first world, were left with more and more leisure time. And this resulted in more and more art. Think of how many more people write fiction today than did even fifty years ago.
Will the Bot Dream for Us?
And… now, the machines are going to do the art for us. Oh, sure, as of today, the chatbot’s output is not awesome, but give it to the end of the year. Drum machines replaced studio musicians, iPhone photography replaced (or is in the process of replacing) trained photographers, design software is replacing designers who spent years studying their craft. AI is used to record audiobooks, thereby replacing trained actors. Bots are creating creepy and beautiful works of art.
What are we going to do when machines become better at all things creative than we are? I mean… ? What will we be left to do with our leisure time then, and how valuable will our output be compared to a machine’s?
I have no idea. I’m as fascinated by the concept as I was at 6 years old when I saw my first robot on a cinema screen. What’s happening right now is insanely interesting and horrifying in equal measure.
What do you think?
Her short stories appear in A Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta, Secrets in the Water, After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift, River River Journal, Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017, and 1+30: THE BEST OF MYSTORY.
When not writing, Emilya works as a visual artist and reads massive quantities of psychological thrillers, suspense, and crime fiction. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.
I knew you were talented with tech besides writing, but had no true idea the depth of your expertise—I’m impressed.
Sydney frankly gives me the willies.
I see students using AI to create essays/assignments and thereby not learning how to research and write. I worry the massive creativity of the human brain will be severely blunted as humans retreat farther away from things like imagination and daydreaming.
Scares the heck out of me…
You and me both! If our creativity is no longer valid, what will happen?
I feel like I’ve been telling myself stories since I was a little kid, and I will continue to tell myself stories when the robots take over. But it does make me a tad anxious.
You’re scaring me and I’m not going to think about it. Hugs.
Hahaha!!!! I need to do that.
It’s a scary world out there. But I predict that the increasing use of ai to create art will result in a two-tiered value structure for creative work. For example, you gain buy the original painting Starry Night if you’ve got the bucks. Or you can buy a print if you have 5 dollars.
Original oil paintings are expensive, and fetch large amounts of money. Original photographs the same, because even the super lenses on the iPhone don’t give the wielded the eye for lighting and composition that a true artist has. Yeah, you can edit. But still…and noe Kodak has gone back into the film business.
It will be the same for story tellers. Sure, ai can create a novel fast. It’ll be readable…probably. But will it give the reader that feeling of ‘ wow. Never saw that coming!’ Will it make you stop reading to admire a brilliant turn of phrase? Nope. So people will buy books by ai the way we used to buy magazines. Fast time killers. But human written books-people will buy for the love of reading and stories and the indescribable beauty of perfect words.
Don’t despair. Technology is awe inspiring. But so is the human mind.
I have to change my outlook, for sure…
This stuff scares the living sh*T out of me which is why I avoid it. Give me a cold blooded human murdering psychopath any day.
Well… in a book, yeah. But IRL, I don’t know. I guess one of the things that’s floating around my paranoid little mind is that with human creativity being valued less and less, people will begin to do something new, and some will end up consuming themselves. I also see a near future where people will ask AI to generate content JUST FOR THEM. Now, we have search results and feeds that are catered to our interests and existing interactions. It’s only a very short jump for us to be able to say “tell me a story with A, B, and C,” and the AI will know what will tick our boxes and tell us the exact story we need to hear. How much will people pay for a subscription service that does that? How much more privacy will people be willing to give up?
These are not really rhetorical questions, but since there’s nothing we can do about it, I’m spectatoring. 🙂