The robots are coming for our jobs…

A robot writing
A robot writing – an AI-generated image

Recently, there has been a lot of talk on the internet regarding AI and its usage in the creative professions, including fears that robots will take over the fun stuff, concerns that students will use it to cheat by creating essays, worries about plagiarism, the ethics of attribution, and more.

The founding editor of Clarkesworld sci-fi magazine this week reported a huge spike in the submission of AI-written short stories. The magazine received more than 500 submissions flagged for plagiarism in the first 20 days of February, alone, when typically it receives fewer than 30 such submissions a month.

The rise coincides with the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022.

‘Easy money using ChatGPT’

As a result, Clarkesworld has closed its short story submissions. The magazine typically pays 12 cents per word, and Neil Clarke, the magazine’s editor has attributed the problem to people outside the SF/F community driven by “side hustle experts” making claims of easy money using ChatGPT.

I signed up for the ChatGPT research release because a writers’ forum I belong to mentioned its uses as a research tool, with the caveats that it’s not fool-proof, and its knowledge cut-off is September 2021.

Can ChatGPT replace human writers, I asked, and this was the reply:

As an AI language model, I am capable of generating text on a wide variety of topics, and I can produce content that is grammatically correct and coherent. However, while I can create text that mimics human writing to a certain extent, I cannot completely replace human writers.

Human writers bring their unique perspectives, experiences, and creativity to their writing, and they are capable of producing content that is emotionally resonant, thought-provoking, and insightful in ways that AI language models like myself cannot replicate. Human writers also have the ability to adapt their writing to different audiences and contexts, to inject humor, irony, and other forms of figurative language, and to use language in ways that are not strictly logical or predictable.

The first person pronoun use is already an attempt to ‘humanise’ and make the tool less threatening, which feels inappropriate. I fed that back to the system and received a polite reply, thanking me for bringing the matter to its attention, apologising for any confusion, and that it was more appropriate to use third person pronouns (the inanimate ‘it’) when referring to “AI language models like myself”.

The second paragraph of the answer used the first person pronouns throughout. Maybe I should have made that clearer—don’t use first person pronouns when interacting with me—but it felt a bit… rude, proving the humanising point.

Awe-inspiring poetry (or not)

In the interests of research*, I also tried a tool for generating poetry. It isn’t particularly sophisticated as the example generated when I asked for a haiku for my husband telling him I love him shows.

Love that grows so deep
Your touch so tender and true
Forever I love you

The greetings card industry might welcome it; the various poetry blogs I follow have nothing to fear (yet).

The observant among you may have noticed that WordPress now offers AI-generated paragraphs and art. The picture at the top of this blog is one example, as is the one below because I couldn’t resist asking for an image of a cat reading.

The image below that is what happened when I asked for a Vector image of a handsome red-headed man wearing a kilt. I leave it up to you to decide whether the picture it produced fulfils that brief…

A hyper realistic picture of a cat reading a book
A hyper realistic picture of a cat reading a book
A Vector image of a handsome, red-haired man wearing a kilt
A Vector image of a handsome, red-haired man wearing a kilt

For some weeks now I’ve been using Quillbot, a paraphrasing tool, to copy edit my fiction. I used it to rewrite the first paragraph at the top of this blog, and you can see that I rejected some of the suggestions:

While I have the system set to British English, it still generates Americanisms, such as suggesting I use ‘line’ rather than queue or describing someone as a basketball fan, when I said the character was a Hoops fan meaning Celtic FC, and the trunk of a car, rather than the boot.

Would I use Quillbot to replace a human copy-editor/proofreader? No. But I rewrite sentences myself now, guessing that Quillbot will reorder them, and the thesaurus element is a God-send.

AI for fiction research

As mentioned, the idea of using ChatGPT to carry out research related to my fiction appealed, so the first question I asked was, “how can you tell if someone has shot themselves or been murdered?” relating to a detective novel I’m currently writing.

The 300-word reply contained enough detail for my scene, where the amateur detective’s suspicions that his nephew did not take his own life are proved correct, to sound ‘authentic’, though an actual police officer/forensics expert might not agree.

It’s a vastly-sped-up version of using search engines and trawling through the results.

Writers worry about where all this is heading, myself included. There are so many potential pitfalls, ones I’m aware of, others I don’t have the imagination or intellect to come up with. ChatGPT says it can be used to generate drafts, as the final paragraph of the answer the AI tool gave me when I asked if it could replace human writers:

That being said, I can certainly be a helpful tool for writers and content creators, and I can be used to generate ideas, provide inspiration, or even generate drafts that can be refined and polished by human writers. Ultimately, I believe that the most effective approach to writing involves a collaboration between humans and AI, where the strengths of both are leveraged to create the best possible content.

There are writers out there who can produce genre fiction incredibly quickly–there’s the odd writer who can write a first draft of a novel in a few weeks–whereas ChatGPT could do it in minutes.

Does that mean that people writing popular crime, romance, thriller fiction with its clear, recognisable tropes could be out of a job, or will they still make as much money refining or editing the AI draft?

Will they still enjoy the endeavour as much? Will people want to read these books? There are already books on Amazon marked as co-created with AI.

Change is a’comin’

Whether we like it or not, the changes are here already and the only thing threatening them is potential power outtages in the future where people decide their electricity rations are best used for heating/cooking/lighting (electricity rationing will and has to happen if we are to stand any chance of passing the world on to future generations) rather than powering up AI systems.

When I set out to write this, part of me was tempted to use ChatGPT and/or WordPress’s AI paragraphs generator to come up with almost all of the blog, as the topic’s so vast and complex. I knew I would ramble, I wouldn’t come to any definite conclusions, offer stunning insights or do anything other than state the bleedin’ obvious.

The blog has taken me almost four hours to write, and a lot of mulling over in between.

But the creative drive’s a powerful one. There are so many of us who will always want to write (even vapid, self-indulgent and not particularly interesting blogs like this one), draw, paint, make music, act, sculpt, screen-write and much more, and hopefully, all fingers and toes crossed, human creative endeavours will always find an audience.

*also known as procrastination, a skill in which I excel.