I blogged a while back about advances in artificial intelligence (also here), and I’ve since had a fair bit of fun putting different prompts into ChatGPT and seeing what it comes up with. Not that it’s come up with anything particularly good, but it’s definitely come up with things that are amusing or surprising, considering the source. (This reminds me in many ways of the reaction a child gets for saying something that seems like a child wouldn’t come up with. There’s a lower bar to clear to make someone impressed.)
But I’ve been surprised to see how fast people are pushing the AI envelope, when it comes to creative writing. There have been multiple articles this past week about how some short story magazines are being inundated with submissions written by AI, and how Amazon has a number of books already up that are openly written (and even illustrated!) by AI. (And who knows how many of them are written by AI, but the “authors” are trying to conceal the fact.) Having seen what AI looks like, I didn’t think anyone would be trying to use it for creative projects just yet, but I suppose I shouldn’t have underestimated the willingness of some to try just about anything to make money.
What are my thoughts on this? I actually think that for traditionally published authors, this is going to work out very well for them. If you’re trying to self-publish, things just got a lot (lot) more grim.
Speaking as a reader of many an ebook, I have already noticed that it can be very difficult to tell what might be good and what might be bad, in terms of quality, when it comes to self-published works. Because of that, I’m very reluctant to try anything that’s not published by a traditional imprint. I’ve got a limited amount of time and attention, and I don’t want to waste it reading things I don’t enjoy. With the advent of electronic self-publishing, it felt like just about anyone was coming out with a novel.
Mind you, some of those novels were definitely good. Even great. (The Martian is exhibit A of this, for me.) But even with how “easy” it was to publish a book, there was still the big obstacle of actually writing the book. Even someone churning out pages and pages of drivel would still take a lot of time to actually come up with that drivel, so there was a sort of self-cap on the amount of books that could flood the market.
AI does away with that limiting factor. Now, one person could theoretically “write” a book a week (or even more). If they got it down to a science, they could have AI come up with the cover, the title, the text, and then format the whole thing. In that case, they could “write” as many books as they feel like. It just depends on how many times they want to click the Enter key. Then, the limiting factor becomes how fast Amazon will let someone put a book up for sale, and if they limit that in any way.
So where before, someone might be churning out four books a year on the outside, now a single person could make 200 a year. 300? 400? Many. And they don’t have to worry about actually having any skill. I read an interview by a person who was happy that the 30 page picture book about squirrels he’d “made” (written and illustrated by AI) had made $100 already. It’s not a huge leap to then wonder if he could make $100 per book, why not write 300 books? Then he’s bringing in $30,000 his first year, and it only goes up from there!
Naturally, this isn’t going to scale well. It’s going to end up with ebook spam that almost entirely gets ignored. I expect editors are going to be hating life for a while, until they can reliably come up with a way to filter out AI writing. Even then, they’ll be in an arms race of sorts as “writers” try to come up with ways around that filtering. If Amazon chooses to try and be pickier about what they publish, the same situation will happen there. (I’m not sure that they will, since Amazon makes money either way, but they might, if it makes people stop going to Amazon for anything.)
But once an author has made it through the gauntlet and gotten a book professionally published? I would think things will be a bit brighter for them, mainly because I see more and more people turning to reading only professionally published works. They’ll let the editors be the gatekeepers of quality, and rely on that filtering process (and the review process that’s also been developed) more than they have right now. In other words, the worse the self-pub industry gets, the better things look for the traditional route.
I could be wrong, of course, but I’m not losing any sleep over it right now. It’s funny: it seems like the more advanced our technology gets, the more we’re turning back to how things used to be. Right now, for example, I’m getting tired of having to subscribe to 10 different streaming companies to be able to watch what I want to watch. It feels like it might be nice if someone were to bundle all those companies into a single service, and then I just have to pay one bill. When that happens, we’ll be back to cable TV.
In the meantime, having read a fair bit of AI-generated text, I can safely say I’d rather do just about anything than read an entire book written that way. What do you think?
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