Is this the new Apocalypse for writers? The start of a new conversation.
Some months ago, a short article on the internet piqued my interest and scared me at the same time: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. A recent 60 Minutes program just added to my concerns. And then I saw on the news that “A man widely seen as the godfather of artificial intelligence (AI) has quit his job, warning about the growing dangers from developments in the field. Geoffrey Hinton, 75, announced his resignation from Google in a statement to the New York Times, saying he now regretted his work.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) has made incredible strides in its ability to generate human-like text and so it is becoming increasingly commonplace, with businesses and organizations. But what about us, the story tellers, we who write because we have to, because if we didn’t our lives would not be fulfilled, we who simply share our creativity in words?
With technology that is moving faster than the speed of light, it is not just low-skilled jobs like content writing that are at risk of being automated by AI. Professional writers, Journalists, and novelists (so they say!) could eventually be replaced by machines. In fact, one Japanese company has already developed an AI system that it claims can write novels better than humans!
How long will it be before AI writing becomes good enough to completely replace human writers across all genres and formats? Across all genres and formats, you ask. Hmm. I believe that as the technology continues to improve, it seems that the day when machines can do some of our jobs better than we can is fast approaching, if not already here. There are programs being developed (GPT-3) that can construct a short story, hold a conversation (SIRI, ALEXA), and write a news article.
Eons ago when I was a university prof teaching in a Master’s Program, a concern that faculty had was that some really bright students would hire a professional to write their term papers for them or possibly find some academic paper on the internet (a budding worldwide computer network at the time) and rework it. How antiquated that now seems, how passè. Since late last year, AI platforms like ChatGPT have become a growing topic of conversation on college campuses, with students using the technology for everything from class assignments to completing dissertations.
And what about AI and its use in business? “I don’t see writing career paths moving forward where AI isn’t infused,” says Paul Roetzer (Marketing AI Institute Founder and CEO). “The technology is getting too good, too fast not to be adopted by companies in some fashion. Generally, that does not mean replacing writers. It means writers will use AI tools in some way in almost every aspect of their jobs. What that looks like will depend on your role and your company, but you will need to use AI in your daily work moving forward.”
But back to ourselves, we who use words, savor words, play with words professionally and organize them into publications people call stories, flash fiction, novels, and poetry. We who dream up our characters, put flesh and bone on them, develop, live, and sometimes die with them. We who share our most intimate feelings, embarrassing moments, even our secrets with them, what about us? A computer is a machine and can never feel or describe what I have experienced in giving birth to my characters, accompanying them through the vagaries of their lives, experiencing the gamut of emotions as they weave their way through joyous moments, trials, and tribulations. And finally, a machine cannot understand or empathize with me at the heartache of separation, of leaving them when my novel is finished and is reluctantly handed over to another person to be printed, to be shared by the world.
But how far off are we from AI programs being able to produce writing of style and substance that might resemble Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen or Ngozie Adiche? I wonder if the AI gurus are as close as they think they are. My computer has neither lived my life nor the lives of the characters who live inside my inventive mind. It might be able to imitate, to copy, but it will never be able to foresee or foretell what even I have not yet formulated. For that is who I am, a creative storyteller, and even I do not know what the next words will be until my brain gives me the code!
It is argued that AI will serve to augment our work by providing writers with improved tools. Time will be saved when writing a historical novel by not having to spend months doing research when AI will deliver it in minutes. That means the writers, the story tellers, can spend more time on the creative aspects of their work. If these last two suppositions hold, then I am definitely ‘in.’
I may not be in the same place as the people in rural Ireland and their initial reaction to the introduction of electricity. Whole villages refused to accept the new technology, thinking they'd be fried in their beds! But maybe I just have a questioning mind and do not want to clutter it with speculation or anxiety regarding technological developments that may or may not help me become more fulfilled as a writer or expand my imagination. In any case all I want to do is tell stories.