Once upon a time, in a land of tech giants and metaverses, there came the dubious issue of books being written by artificial intelligence. Within weeks of the introduction of various generative AI models such as ChatGPT, a multitude of books began appearing online, seemingly written by these bots.
As of today (25 April), there are over 90 e-books in Amazon UK’s Kindle store listing ChatGPT as an author or co-author, and 95 on the US site. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg from what we can see. Should we be worried for the world of literature? Or is this the start of a symbiotic relationship with these machines?
Brett Schickler was one of these writers utilising the tool, creating the children’s book The Wise Little Squirrel: A Tale of Saving and Investing. Schickler, a salesman from Rochester, New York used AI software, which can generate blocks of text from simple prompts, to publish a 30-page illustrated children’s e-book in a matter of hours.
Even the amateurishly-rendered Sammy the squirrel itself is made from AI-generated software. The reviewers were not forgiving. For one, a rather large error was spotted in the work, with a character being referred to as “name of human”, and many of the responses called it a “scam” paying for a product that he did not write himself.
And in a limited NationalWorld poll sent out on social media platform Mastodon, 68% out of 60 people said they would not read an AI-written book for the reasons including theft, cheating, and one person said that “it’s actively destructive to human culture and happiness”. Others said that the AI’s lack of purpose towards writing makes it meaningless.
Instagram’s Bookstagram community, which represent book lovers on the network, were equally repulsed, with a resounding 100% voting that they would never read an AI-written book. Book of Revelations author Sophie Leone said she had “mega resistance” towards it, especially as a writer “who writes from the soul”.
On the other hand, there is a section of the public who are curious to see what in fact AI can bring to the table. Neurodiverse author Jack Ori was open to the idea, saying: “Right now AI isn't advanced enough to write quality books, but it's a great tool to help authors get their books written and if AI can write a good book, why not read it?”
Programme manager Neil Young said that he is “already consuming loads of AI-generated content. Still, I’d be interested in knowing when what I’m reading is, isn’t, or partially is, AI-generated”.
That is the question. Authors, novelists, poets, writers and the entire literary world will need to be clear when they are using artificial intelligence. Otherwise, it can end up feeling deceitful. Months of work reduced down to a mere few minutes.
Clare Fisher, author of All The Good Things
"Writing that engages readers at complex intellectual, emotional and affective levels, and which does something genuinely new and exciting with aesthetics, cannot be programmed."
Clare Fisher, who is a writer, researcher and creative writing lecturer at the University of Sheffield, says we’re having a ‘Kindle’ moment. The Betty Trask Award winner said that they don't think AI will kill literature: "It's possible, of course, that half of next year's Booker shortlist will be robots. I highly doubt it, however."
Fisher, who wrote All the Good Things, added: "Writing, particularly writing that engages readers at complex intellectual, emotional and affective levels, and which does something genuinely new and exciting with aesthetics, cannot be programmed." While they think AI may do a great job of impersonating it, in the way that it might impersonate your friend by mimicking the pattern of their WhatsApp messages - it won't make it. Hence the jury is still out on what this will mean and how this will look for producers and consumers in the future.
With that in mind, I asked ChatGPT itself what it thinks about the potential problems with AI-written books:
- Lack of creativity: AI-generated writing can lack the creativity and originality that comes from human writers. Although AI can produce coherent and grammatically correct sentences, it may not be able to generate truly unique ideas or perspectives that capture the human experience.
- Incoherent or illogical writing: While AI can produce grammatically correct sentences, it may not be able to fully understand the context and logic of a piece of writing. This can result in incoherent or illogical writing that does not make sense to human readers.
- Limited understanding of emotions and nuance: AI lacks the emotional intelligence and nuanced understanding of human experiences that allows human writers to create complex characters and relationships. AI-generated writing may be simplistic and lack the depth and richness of human-created literature.
- Lack of cultural context: AI may not fully understand the cultural context and nuances of a particular language or region, resulting in writing that is tone-deaf or offensive.
It said: “Overall, while AI-generated writing has potential, it still lacks the creativity, emotional intelligence, and cultural understanding of human writers.”
I am glad that we can agree on something. The end.