AI and creative writing

 In Articles, books, Business, Design, Education, Explainer, fiction, Interviews, journalism, Non-fiction, research, Writing
Like many (most?) writers, whether of fiction or non-fiction, I’ve been thinking a lot about AI, and what role it’s going to play in my industries: journalism and publishing (mainly novels). I’ve had a stab at seeing what programs like ChatGPT can do, and I’ve not been overly impressed.
But then I read Confessions of a Viral AI Writer, by Vauhini Vara, in Wired. Vara explained why ChatGPT, in particular, sucks as as a writer of fiction: because it’s programmed to be a good chatbot. “ChatGPT’s voice is polite, predictable, inoffensive, upbeat. Great characters, on the other hand, aren’t polite; great plots aren’t predictable; great style isn’t inoffensive; and great endings aren’t upbeat.”
Vara used another program, GPT-3 to test out the limits and possibilities of AI in an essay about a bereavement. The result, after some iteration, was a surprise. “AI could write a sentence.” and “In my opinion, GPT-3 had produced the best lines in “Ghosts.”
And, in conclusion, If I wanted to understand the relationship between AI and literature, I felt like I had to start by acknowledging that. I could use AI to do some of the most essential labor of a writer—to come up with the right words.
I’m inclined to agree. AI isn’t going away, and, as Vara found, it’s a useful tool. Journalists and writers aren’t going to be replaced by AI, but many of the tasks that we do in order to do our jobs will be done by AI going forward. For example, I use an audio program called descript, which has an AI tool that removes ums and ahs and other verbal tics from interviews. That was an onerous task that used to be done by producers and engineers. Now they don’t need to.
You could regard this as a dangerous thing that is taking a job away from a producer. Or you could regard it as a useful tool that takes away the need for busy work, and frees the producer up to do something more meaningful. Vara decided to take a stab at the latter, bearing in mind her discomfort with AI and many of the odious characteristics that seem inherent to it: “the lack of consent in training, the reinforcement of bias, the poorly paid gig workforce supporting it, the cheapening of artists’ labor.” And despite the initial success she had with her essay, “Ghosts,” she ended up disappointed. It seems inevitable that AI will be a tool for writers of all types, but in the words of the first software developers, ‘garbage in, garbage out.
Or as Vara puts it, “I was conversing with a software program created by some of the richest, most powerful people on earth. What this software uses language for could not be further from what writers use it for. I have no doubt that AI will become more powerful in the coming decades—and, along with it, the people and institutions funding its development. In the meantime, writers will still be here, searching for the words to describe what it felt like to be human through it all.”
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