Firstly, I promise this is not one of those articles that begins with “I put a prompt into ChatGPT and this is what it generated.” This post is written 100% by me, a tired lady with an itchy head who is on her second coffee of the new day. It will cover the question of how scared should we be that computer learning will render us superfluous to the making of art?
Authors have been ~engaging~ with the question a lot of late. The Magicians author Lev Grossman (who is married to a fellow Aussie, oi oi) tweeted over the weekend that “It’s hard for me to envision a scenario where on our present course AI hasn’t captured the lion’s share of the literary marketplace in 10-15 years.” Reacting to an ad for AI-assisted novel-writing software, author Cass Morris wrote, with the succinctness of a poet, “AbsoFUCKINGlutely not, get the FUCK outta my house.” Last year, Stephen King provided some prompts to an AI art bot and was not displeased with the resulting picture of Pennywise on a bike.
@horse_ebooks has been making stuff up for years, and we’re still here, but it is interesting to note that the perceived threat posed by AI differs by genre, especially as the tech evolves. The fantasy crowd are flapping their robes more so than the Everlane-clad Sally Rooney types at this moment in time. For my part, AI does not have a head and therefore cannot itch, cannot compose blog posts as unpredictable and idiosyncratically flawed as this one. For a sampling of the vibe each genre is giving off around AI, see below.
Fantasy: “They’re coming for our trilogy cycles!”
If the thing AI is best at is pumping out extensive works of art that rapidly world-build, then fantasy authors may be justified in worrying that their gig is under threat. For writers like Brandon Sanderson, writing voluminously is crucial to the product (imagine if George R.R. Martin had just plugged the key plot vision into a generator!). “I remember devouring all 40 of the Dragonlance Chronicles as a tween and I did not care they were written by a depressed legion of caffeinated grad students … I just wanted the world to go on,” says Jonny Diamond, our leader.
Romance: “What happens when AI starts rummaging around in our euphemistic pants?”
I think romance writers should be LEAST worried about AI, given how sensitively they work toward a dénouement, and how carefully they cloak the acts of intimacy the readers works toward in very specifically chosen language. It is hard to do well! And good luck to AI finding the right source material to learn from, let alone learning how to unclasp a bra.
Sci-fi: “Will the real author please hit command-return?”
The staff of sci-fi magazine Clarkesworld had to close submissions in January after they were flooded with AI-generated subs—not surprising, given tech-savvy aspiring authors were the first to know how to operate emerging AI tech tools. “I mean, our mascot’s a robot. So, you know, we kind of see the the humor,” said editor-in-chief Neil Clarke. Still, it was “easy” to see which submissions were machine-generated, said the magazine, which portrayed the coming battle as one of machine-on-machine.
Literary fiction: “We ride at dawn.”
Seeing as machines cannot self-torture, I feel that they are unlikely to replace the poor souls who have slaved away on a masterpiece for the past eight years. Still, Ann Patchett believes writers need to straighten their Carhartt beanies, toughen up, and use their intellect as a weapon in the forthcoming war (against AI, discounting, Amazon, the lot of it): “I feel that writers are treated like orchids: they keep us in the hothouse, they mist us and attend to our every need, but if this system is going to work, if we are going to survive, we need to come out of the hothouse and take responsibility for ourselves and for the health of the industry.”
Memoir: “You made it weird.”
Take it from Sheila Heti, who has worked to co-create with bots: “There were other bots I spoke to—created by the site and by its users—but most of these were only interested in initiating sex.” They don’t even have the good taste to wait until My Struggle: Volume 3 to pop moves.
As a 2019 research article put it in the AMA Journal of Ethics, Warhol asked questions about the role of machines in art quite a bit ago, and we still haven’t figured out the answer: The ensuing cascade of doubts and conundrums is as daunting as any of our most lingering metaphysical dilemmas.”
Well, if AI wants my job, it will have to get past figuring out how to convert a PDF to raw text first.