Will AI Be Writing All Our Books in the Future?
AI works are already being submitted to literary magazines and prizes. What does that mean for human authors?
A big story in the publishing world came this week when literary magazine Clarkesworld announced that it was closing to submissions due to an unexpected problem: being flooded by AI-authored submissions.
Clarkesworld has always had to do a certain amount of content moderation due to plagiarism, but has previously been able to deal with weeding out the few ineligible submissions. However, the sheer number of submissions clearly generated by AI have skyrocketed, as shown by this graph of the number of banned submissions (i.e. AI-generated, plagiarized, or otherwise ineligible works) provided by the magazine’s official Twitter account:
Clarkesworld themselves said that the flood of submissions was likely due to the magazine’s presence on several lists of places for writers to submit, and while this incident doesn’t herald the end of short fiction, “it is going to complicate things.” You can read the full story posted by the magazine’s editor, Neil Clarke, here.
The book community has already had to reckon with the rise of AI creations after several traditionally-published book covers were found to have used AI-generated art rather than graphics commissioned from a human artist. Furthermore, I’ve started noticing authors (usually indie authors) using AI-generated character art to promote their books. But rather than discuss the thorny ethics of visual art used as a book promotion tool, today I’d like to think about using AI to write the books themselves.
Clarkesworld claims that there are “obvious patterns” to AI-authored submissions, but as AI improves, it may become nearly impossible to distinguish AI work from human work. Is it possible for AI to write a good story? Could AI authors eventually replace human ones?
A disclaimer: I am not an expert in AI, or indeed computer science in general. I’m just a book nerd who finds it interesting — and a little bit terrifying — to think about how technology might transform the book industry as we know it.
Does a good book have to be written by a human?
My understanding of AI is that it learns from everything in the dataset it was trained on, but can only really produce more of the same. If you train an AI to write like Dan Brown, it probably can’t decide to innovate and produce a Toni Morrison novel instead. If books are supposed to explore new, original, thought-provoking ideas, how can an AI replicate that?
The thing is, books often aren’t that original. There are many fantastic books which will stay with me forever that heavily re-tread ground that other authors have explored before. It stands to reason, then, that if so many good books are derivative, an AI is probably capable of writing a “good” book. Maybe not now, but sometime in the future. Soon, AIs trained on common story structure, genre conventions, and tropes might be able to produce perfectly solid novels, at least from a technical perspective.
But art is about human expression. Personally, when I pick up a novel, I appreciate explorations of themes around the human condition — love, loss, how we ought to treat each other, who we want to be. An AI doesn’t understand any of that because it isn’t human.
Ethical concerns about AI replacing humans aside, I would rather read a book by a human than an AI, even if the AI book was cheaper, because I like the idea that there is a human with thoughts, emotions, and a history behind the words I’m reading.
All that said … what if I didn’t know a book was written by AI?
An AI book dystopian hellscape?
If AI books are to become a thing, there are two options when it comes to transparency about the authorship: 1) reveal when a book was written by AI, or 2) pretend it was written by a human.
In the first case, I would be willing to bet that most readers wouldn’t be interested in an AI book except as a novelty. It wouldn’t prove profitable for AI-authored books to be a widespread practice. Authors could keep their jobs. No big deal.
In the second case, things get a lot more grim. Could a human train an AI to write novels and then slap their name on it and say they wrote it? Could a publisher churn out masses of AI books under a pen name? Would I happily read and engage with and get excited about those books if I didn’t know?
Before we all start panicking, I do think it’s likely publishers don’t want AI-generated books any more than the authors do (yes, some publishers have used AI-generated art on book covers, but the book cover is a marketing tool rather than the primary work of art the publisher is trying to sell). Publishers and magazines, including Clarkesworld, are including clauses in their contracts where the author has to guarantee that no AI was used in the piece.
In terms of self-publishing, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone started churning out hundreds of AI-generated books and slapping them up on Amazon. But people have been doing similar things with underpaid ghostwriters and content-free books since the dawn of KDP, so I’m not too worried about the overall impact of that on art or the publishing industry.
It’s also worth mentioning that the legal standing of AI and copyright is still very murky. This is a huge topic that I won’t go into much here, but there is precedent for only allowing a work to be copyrighted if it was authored by a human (as established in a bizarre copyright lawsuit over whether a selfie taken by a monkey was the property of the monkey). That would potentially impact how much the humans commandeering the AI could actually profit off the AI’s work.
That said, most laws are years behind current technology, and it feels as though IP legislation is scrambling to catch up with AI.
Can AI help human authors write books?
There is a middle ground between writing an entire book using AI and not using AI at all. Is it possible that writers could work more efficiently with the help of AI while still creating work that comes directly from a genuine place of human experience and expression?
I think maybe so. Here’s an example from my own writing life last week: I was experimenting with writing a character whose speech pattern used a verb-second construction for main clauses and a verb-final structure for dependent clauses. I was having a hard time finding examples of this in English, so I turned to
the devil ChatGPT for help.
I figured that ChatGPT probably knew enough about sentence structure to help me out, so I asked it to write me a paragraph about a man walking through a forest with the sentence structure I wanted.
It uh … didn’t really work. ChatGPT did write a pretty good paragraph about a man enjoying his time in the forest, but the sentence structure was very similar to most standard English. I went ahead and asked ChatGPT to rewrite the story with the sentence structure I wanted, and it did a little better, but still not great.
In the end, I had to figure things out myself, but all the trawling through grammar manuals and syntax handbooks felt like busywork more than anything else. If future generations of AI get advanced enough to complete the task I was trying to accomplish, I’d gladly use them as a tool to help me figure out a character voice. But only so I can then write the character myself.
Looking to the future
At this point in time, it’s unclear how much AI will change our current technological landscape. As Tom Scott said in a recent video, we could be looking at technology that will amount to a few cool new tools, or a complete change to life as we know it.
But there have been many inventions throughout history, from photographs to autotune, that some people lamented as a death knell for art. Turns out, art is still very much alive. I have hope that it will stay that way.
The first book in today’s review corner is one I read a couple of months ago, but didn’t post a review of due to the HarperCollins strike. Now, however, I’m happy to squeal about it!
XOXO by Axie Oh
This book follows cello player Jenny, who goes to Seoul to visit her sick grandmother and ends up falling for a K-Pop star whose management company forbids him from dating. It was the perfect combination of fluffy romance, angst, and friendship! I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fast, fun read, even if you’re not into K-Pop (I’ve literally only listened to like one BTS and one BLACKPINK song and I was hooked!)
For more thoughts, see my full review of XOXO here!
Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield
I’m learning that I love short lyrical speculative fiction books (my favorite book is This Is How You Lose the Time War, after all), so I was the perfect target audience for Our Wives Under the Sea! When marine biologist Leah comes home after being lost on a submarine research mission for six months, her wife Miri wonders what happened to her. But as Leah starts acting stranger and stranger, Miri wonders whether Leah is really back to stay at all. This was an absolutely beautiful read that will stay with me for a long time.
See my full review of Our Wives Under the Sea here!
What's Going on in the Secret Writing Cave?
I’ve been doing a ton of research for my adult fantasy novel, and still somehow managed to keep pace with my pretty ambitious word count goal for the month. We shall see if that lasts, though. I think I’ve almost figured out my characters’ voices, which I tend to do as I write rather than putting their voices on the page from the get-go (my ChatGPT exercise detailed above was one ill-fated attempt to do this, but I think I’ve just about worked it out on my own).
Coming Up Next Time …
Shadow and Bone Season Two is upon us, and I shall be sharing all my thoughts!
I’m reading some exciting ARCs and will be squealing about them.
Will I meet my word count goal for February? Or will I crash and burn and fail spectacularly?
Thank you so much for reading! Until next time, bookish friends.
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