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November 12, 2023 12:15 AM   Subscribe

Novelists and poets Bernardine Evaristo, Jeanette Winterson, Adam Roberts, YZ Chin, Harry Josephine Giles, Louisa Hall, Stephen Marche, Will Eaves, Nick Harkaway, Jo Callaghan, Philip Terry and Nathan Filer on how AI could rewrite the future (Guardian)
posted by protorp (14 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I like Winterson's best:

As a fiction writer, I know we should avoid apocalyptic thinking. The way we live is not a law, like gravity; it is propositional. We make it up as we go along. We can change the story because we are the story. This is freedom. It is also responsibility. What story shall we tell about who humans are? Warlike, violent, dishonest, wasteful? That’s part of us, certainly. It’s not the whole story – and I don’t want it to be the story that ends life on Earth. The last thing I am worrying about right now is whether AI will write better fiction than humans. I don’t care.
posted by chavenet at 2:48 AM on November 12, 2023 [4 favorites]

Julia ... worked, as he had guessed, on the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department. She enjoyed her work, which consisted chiefly in running and servicing a powerful but tricky electric motor. She was 'not clever', but was fond of using her hands and felt at home with machinery. She could describe the whole process of composing a novel, from the general directive issued by the Planning Committee down to the final touching-up by the Rewrite Squad. But she was not interested in the finished product. She 'didn't much care for reading,' she said. Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces.
1984, George Orwell
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:01 AM on November 12, 2023 [11 favorites]

It is reassuring that creative writers have enough imagination to see a variety of outcomes, which of course, don't negate or diminish the very problematic aspects of how these tools are being built and used, by whom and for what purpose.
posted by snofoam at 6:01 AM on November 12, 2023 [2 favorites]

I would be interesting to see these same viewpoints written a year ago when the ChatGPT moral panic was at its peak. Going by these essays, the SAG-AFTRA "Shut it down. Shut it all down" seems archaic already. People are adjusting.

One thing that I was looking for and was missing (perhaps for obvious reasons if you're an author) is an appreciation of how much the reader brings to the work. No two readers experience the same prose in the same way and while the creator may have some viewpoint or story they're trying to share, art is always a collaborative effort between between the artist and audience.

Nathan Filer's little deception at the end isn't just a cheap trick. It's a demonstration of how much we, the reader, bring to the table based on our assumptions and experience. It raises the frightening spectre that the more generic the writing, the more the reader has to fill in the gaps, the more interesting it will be for them. This is by no means a new thought, but ChatGPT is this concept writ large.

Like all of those writers, I am interested to see where the path leads.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:31 AM on November 12, 2023 [1 favorite] is my own particular window into this, as a filmgoer who also knows career actors, animators and scriptwriters as acquaintances.

Stephen Marche and Jo Callaghan said the things that are my own fears:

The great era of the novel is over. You could say the same for film. Every last one of the top 10 grossing films last year were sequels or reboots.


The question is not whether AI can replace the role of writers, but the extent to which the consumers and commissioners of fiction are willing to invest in original, human-generated stories. [...] There has always been a market for formulaic fiction across all genres and mediums, whether that be in crime, and romance novels, or action films. But each of these genres continues to be stretched and reinvented by new authors and screen writers, who crucially bring their own experiences to their work, with breakout hits such as Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, or Succession by Jesse Armstrong. If my children are anything to go by, I think we are becoming increasingly sophisticated consumers of creativity, alert to inauthenticity and intolerant of cliches, underpinned by a deep desire for human connection.

I would say that Callaghan's hopes that "we are becoming...alert to inauthenticity and intolerant of cliches" is contradicted by Marche's observation that "Every last one of the top 10 grossing films last year were sequels or reboots."

ChatGPT can crank out cheap formulaic stuff easily, and there is a market for that and there always WILL BE a market for that. However, that market is dominating the market for smaller, more independent works. The smaller films and TV shows and novels are competing for the same attention as the bigger, traditional blockbuster kinds of things - and are also competing for the same talent, the same resources, and the same financial backing. ChatGPT just makes it EVEN EASIER for the studios behind the the big blockbusters to make their films - because hey, if you don't have to pay a living human to write your stuff and can just get a ChatGPT generated script, that saves you money you can use to bump up the VFX and REALLY get people's attention.

If you are an investor, and are approached by two filmmakers looking for backing, your safer investment will be the new take on a superhero film as opposed to the smaller film that takes an honest and novel look at the human condition - and one of the reasons why it's a safer investment is that you know more people will go to see the superhero film. So that smaller film may not ever get made.

And speaking as a filmgoer - I think the MCU stuff is just fine, but I ALSO want to see the smaller indie stuff. I'm fortunate enough that I live somewhere where I CAN see it, but I have lived in a place where I would not have been easily able to do so; and that means there's an alternate timeline where I would not have ever seen two of my favorite films of all time, and my life would have been poorer for it (I may not have known about the films, but I would have missed out on the introspection those films provided me and who knows what my mental state would have been).

So I don't think that there is as large a demand for sophisticated and novel literature as Jo Callaghan thinks - and what little there is, ChatGPT might end up inadvertently starving it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:52 AM on November 12, 2023 [2 favorites]

This is a little tangential, but this thread (nitter) from Justine Bateman outlines how AI could affect actors within the SAG union contract - and it's quite insidious, and even disturbing.
Audition odds will change. Winning an audition could become very difficult, because you will not just be competing with the available actors who are your type, but you will now compete with every actor, dead or alive, who has made their “digital double” available for rent … 21/

… in a range of ages to suit the character. You also will be in competition with an infinite number of AI Objects that the studios/streamers can freely use. And a whole cast of AI Objects instead of human actors eliminates the need for a set or any crew at all. 22/
I'm not sure most of the authors in the Guardian piece really appreciate how deeply and from which direction they could be subject to fakery as AI's slurp up their entire lifes work and re-roll it like a fake Vermeer that only the most educated of connoisseurs could distinguish from the real thing.
posted by Rumple at 10:57 AM on November 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'm not terribly worried that A.I might produce something I'd like more than something created by a human in the forseeable future/my lifetime.

But I agree that what the reader brings to the work is an important point. Certain works need an educated reader to achieve their full impact. And in terms of education, all this A.I. stuff is a disaster.

A.I could kill demand for quality story-telling, just as fast-fashion killed demand for tailoring. We get hooked on the cheapness of the mass produced stuff and lower our collective standards.
posted by sohalt at 11:27 AM on November 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'm reminded of Roald Dahl's eery short story The Great Automatic Grammatizator . stands to reason that an engine built along the lines of the electric computer could be adjusted to arrange words (instead of numbers) in their right order according to the rules of grammar.

“You see, sir, all my life I’ve wanted to be a writer.”

And stories—well—they’re just another product, like carpets and chairs, and no one cares how you produce them so long as you deliver the goods. We’ll sell them wholesale, Mr Bohlen! We’ll undercut every writer in the country! We’ll corner the market!”

"Where do the plots come from? The machine can’t possibly invent plots.”
“We feed those in, sir. That’s no problem at all."
posted by lucidium at 12:18 PM on November 12, 2023 [2 favorites]

"Where do the plots come from? The machine can’t possibly invent plots.”
“We feed those in, sir. That’s no problem at all."

there are really only six of them after all ...
posted by philip-random at 12:39 PM on November 12, 2023 [2 favorites]

I recently watched the first few minutes of the only YouTube video I've recognized as AI generated a couple of weeks ago.

It was on a channel named' 'Weight Loss Tips' and purported to be a discussion of long term side effects of gall bladder removal. The narrative and the visuals were only loosely correlated, and the vocal inflections of the narrative were very strangely triumphal.

It’s hard for me to believe it could have passed any kind of algorithmic screening by YouTube, so perhaps they aren’t yet bothering to do that.
posted by jamjam at 1:14 PM on November 12, 2023

As always, the problem is Capitalism:

It is the enclosure of the informational commons that most troubles me at present: less the apocalyptic fantasy of an artificial superintelligence concluding that humans are best dispensed with, and more the very old and predictable story that is the use of new technology to privatise what was once public, replacing labour with machinery to better extract surplus value. The spectacular aesthetic products of such processes were ever as tedious as they are beguiling.

posted by signal at 2:57 PM on November 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

@rumple same.
Jeanette Winterson has a bad take but I don't expect more of her. AI's writing is just theft of multiple writers life work with the numbers filed off. This woman is a fraud who has always written shitty stuff that references tech in order to sound Smart.

I laughed when she was like, "I look forward to writing a book with AI and then we split the proceeds". Fuckwad. ChatGPT is not a human being or a sentient entity. It is a licensed software that steals qriters' work.

I have been bashing myself repeatedly over the head ever since I saw Justine Bateman's criticism of the new SAG union contract. Anything to take away the Pain. If the contract allows for AI objects to take the job of actors, why bother to have a contract? The fox is permanently in the hen house.
posted by Didnt_do_enough at 7:29 PM on November 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

Actually, this piece just reminds me over and over again, most writers have high verbalism but very low actual intelligence.
posted by Didnt_do_enough at 7:30 PM on November 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'll buy that for a dollar
posted by clavdivs at 8:01 PM on November 12, 2023

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