OMG is the AI Coming For My Job?!???!??!!!?!?!?
Technically yes, as this New York Times story about people flooding science fiction magazines with AI-generated story submissions makes evident. But realistically, no, because all these generated stories are kinda trash, and anyway, it’s not the AI that’s flooding the submissions pile with crap, it’s people — scamsters looking for a quick shot of money, if Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld’s general supposition is to be believed. AI is not in itself to be blamed for scammy people who otherwise have no relationship with science fiction thinking what the AI is churning out is going to be sufficient to extract payment from a serious magazine.
Why are science fiction magazines getting hit so hard by this? I offer the supposition, in line with Neil Clarke’s, that it’s not about the subject matter, it’s the fact that science fiction magazines still actually pay for short fiction. The amount is small relative to costs in what we are now calling The Global North, but attractive enough for other places. And it’s more than other fiction venues often pay; fiction outside genre is now often paid in contributor’s copies. It makes sense that people trying to cadge a quick buck with this technology might try at these venues. I’m curious to know if The New Yorker’s fiction editor is getting this sort of nonsense as well.
If this is indeed mostly scamsters trying to shake money out of magazines, I expect the flood will lessen soon, if not ever go away entirely. The scamsters will see they’re getting no traction with the ploy and will head off to new cons, and the magazines will also employ some new filtering processes to punt out a lot of this nonsense. There will likely continue to be new attempts with each new iteration of AI text generators, but I don’t see them being any more successful then, either. As I noted on Twitter, if you’re prompting an AI to vomit out text, that one exposure you have to it might make it seem like it’s generated something sufficiently original, especially if you otherwise know very little about the genre. But if you’re an editor, you’ll see the current AI tropes dozens of times with each new iteration. Leaving aside the quality of the prose entirely, the sheer repetition of elements will remove the material from serious consideration.
(Plus the prose will suck.)
I asked ChatGPT if it was here to take my job as a novelist, and this is the response it generated:
No, I’m not here to take anyone’s job as a novelist. As an AI language model, my purpose is to assist and provide support in various tasks related to language and communication. While I am capable of generating text and even writing stories, my abilities are limited to what I have been trained on and the quality of my output is determined by the input and instructions provided to me.
Furthermore, writing is a creative process that involves imagination, emotion, and personal experience. As an AI language model, I lack the capacity for creativity and original thought that is essential for creating compelling stories. Therefore, while I can help you with your writing tasks, I can never replace the unique voice and perspective that you bring to your own writing.
Of course, that’s just what an AI intent on taking my job would say to lull me into a sense of security and complacency, wouldn’t it.
But, as it happens, I agree with the text here. AI isn’t sentient or conscious, its output is the result of what it’s trained on, how it’s been programmed, and how it’s been prompted. It can string sentences together but, as the bosses at CNet and Men’s Health discovered when they set AI programs to write informational articles and then had to pull and correct them, it has no ability to differentiate between truth and nonsense, and “knows” only what it’s been trained on. If you want a fast, infinite generator of competently-assembled bullshit, AI is your go-to source. For anything else, you still need a human. AI models will get better and more efficient at many things, but I do suspect writing a truly satisfying piece of original prose, short or long form, will elude it for some time.
This estimation, mind you, rather conveniently elides the fact that humans are already using AI to generate stories, articles and books, and are rushing to get them published, either through submission to established media outlets, or through self-publishing. But, and here’s the thing, those AI-generated text products aren’t particularly good, and absent significant human intervention, are unlikely to get better anytime soon. The amount of work required by a human to make AI-generated text go from “serviceable on the sentence level” to “actually good” is enough that one wonders why one wouldn’t just skip the AI-generating text part entirely. It would be less work. But then, I can write, so I see that part as extra steps. Someone else might not.
In my line of work, I don’t think AI-generated prose put into the stream of commerce is going to significantly impact the highly curated end of the book market, i.e., the books put out by established publishers. This end of the publishing world is populated with known quantities, i.e., already-known authors, series and franchises, and get their work into bookstores, which adds another level of curation, with respect to what books show up. On the other hand, I suspect AI-generated prose is going to offer a real challenge to indie and self-pubbed folks. They are inevitably going to share the same market spaces as AI-generated prose, and will have to work extra hard to differentiate their work from a flood of AI books. There’s also the added complication that in programs like Kindle Unlimited, where payouts are from a communal pool of cash provided by Amazon, an already crowded field of titles will have their presence and payouts further diluted by a rush of quickly-created AI dreck.
(Unless Amazon and other such vendors work to limit AI-generated work, which they should, as its presence will drive down the value proposition of their all-you-can-read programs. What benefit are they, if it becomes too hard to find actual, readable work? But we’ll see if Amazon, et al actually agrees with that assessment.)
Because of who I am and what I do, at the moment I’m not especially worried that an AI is coming to take my job. They can’t do my job, yet or possibly ever, and also I am well-established enough that, so long as I keep writing entertaining work, there will still be people who will seek out my titles. A fair number of authors are in my shoes, across all genres — established enough, and with enough of an audience, to keep doing what they do for a while yet.
I also suspect newer authors will continue to come up, in part because editors will want what they offer: Good prose that will connect with other humans. It’s why the AI-generated stories aren’t making any headway with the editors of the science fiction magazines. They just don’t have what it takes, and short of actual consciousness in the AI, may not ever. That’s good for humans, writers and readers both.