About a month ago, one of my daughters, who works for an online security company, startled me by the question she posed, “What is publishing doing to prepare for people who use AI to write books?”
I hadn’t paid much attention to how AI will affect publishing’s future. But the thought of Artificial Intelligence pretending to be Shakespeare was loathsome to me. Yet, I had to confess to her and to myself, I hadn’t considered what happens when AI and publishing’s futures clash. Because they will.
AI and Audiobooks
I’ve read numerous articles about how AI is being trained to read emotively and to sound like a human. It’s not far down the road that audiobook companies won’t feel the need to hire professional narrators but can, instead, turn to AI to read to us. (A Swedish publisher already is busily producing backlist titles in audio and believe it holds great potential to be a financial stream for all publishers.)
Hopefully this move toward AI will result in authors’ narration of their own books being viewed as having even greater value than they currently do. And I know I’ve listened to some books with Tom Hanks as the narrator, and he was stupendous. But all those pro narrators whose names we don’t recognize, are their jobs endangered?
AI and Books
This morning I let my imagination take flight, asking myself what difference AI can have on the creation of books. It didn’t take me long to start thinking of various scenarios:
- What if AI could create new Toni Morrison novels for us to read? My understanding of AI goes about as deep as water penetrating the desert floor in the middle of a 100-degree day. But I do know AI learns and learns quickly by being fed gobs of input. So if all of Ms. Morrison’s novels were fed to AI, and it was then asked to write a new novel, using Morrison’s voice and writing techniques, it would not hesitate to spit something out–and quickly. How good would it be? Don’t know. But if someone read the result and then gave AI input on how to improve, it would. I can imagine such a thing happening, can you?
- What if a frustrated, wannabe novelist inputs, say, Jane Austen’s body of work into AI and then asks for a novel with a set list of characters and a plot that were knockoffs of Austen’s writing. AI might turn out something acceptable, especially if the writer provided feedback.
- How about a situation in which a nonfiction writer knew that his work was missing some “spice” that would make it unique yet borrow certain characteristics of popular writers? Could AI fix the ailing manuscript after “reading” several other works? Maybe.
AI and Publishing’s Future
As is true of every new invention, the invention itself is agnostic–neither good nor bad, evil nor godly. It’s what we do with it that matters. It’s possible that AI and publishing can benefit one another.
During a conference on incorporating innovation into publishing, a panel of AI technicians and publishing executives debated that question. You can read the full article here.
The executives were pretty dubious about AI being able to produce a good book. But considering AI can gobble down vast swathes of data quickly, and then spit out a 60,000-word book in 20 seconds, it can work its way through multiple drafts in even an hour.
A Lack of Imagination?
It seems to me that the executives on the panel were unimaginative, thinking of AI as working on its own. They suggested that maybe it could write catalog copy. Or a mediocre book. But what happens when AI teams up with a motivated writer? Off the top of my head, I fantasized some pretty sci-fi-ish possibilities earlier in this post. Considering how rapidly Artificial Intelligence learns and how much it can produce, how far-fetched is it that AI can compete with a creative writer to “write” a new work?
Is AI there yet? No. But just how far are we from one of the scenarios I mentioned? My guess is, that day will come sooner than publishers are prepared for.
AI and Publishing–It’s a Legal Jungle out There
Inevitably, AI and publishing will clash over copyrights. AI invites the pirating of authors’ work. Even if that work is used to generate something “new,” as in the situations I thought up, it’s built off the backs of others’ creative efforts. How does one define the violation of a copyright in such a world? How does a publisher know the genesis of the manuscript everyone thinks of as genius? Is that new novelist really the creator of the book–or did AI do the lion’s share of the work?
It’s true that ChatGPT, producers of an AI platform that can write essays for students, just followed up with a new release, AI Text Classifier, which is designed to help teachers discern if an essay is created by AI. But just how good is the Classifier?
What Constitutes Stealing?
As an example of how complex these questions are, I read an article in our local paper about Sondra Bernstein, a well-known restaurateur, whose most successful restaurant continues to draw tourists and locals even though Ms. Bernstein has stepped away from running the eatery. She’s discovered a new outlet for her artistic eye, creating “original” pieces of art using AI.
My understanding about how AI works is that vast numbers of images are available for the designer, and those images are capable of being manipulated into a unique piece of art. Bernstein uses her restaurant as a place to showcase her art and to offer a set number of copies of each piece for sale. Having created 30,000 pieces of work in eight months, she’s loving the process of setting out with a vague notion of what to make but letting AI suggest a vast array of options–from other people’s work.
About Those Legal Challenges
Three artists have sued the platform Bernstein uses for stealing millions of images created by artists. But Bernstein believes what she is creating is her work, not manipulating tidbits from others’ work. “I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and so far I’ve been trying to get actual information….I don’t want anybody to steal stuff. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m stealing other people’s work.”
And yet…is she?
You can read the article and see some of her artwork here.
AI and You
What fantasy scenarios can you create about how AI can affect publishing? How might you want to use it to help you write a book? What is your first thought when you consider reading a book written by AI?
My knuckles drag upon the ground,
to me AI’s a mystery,
and I guess this makes me sound
like I’m from a long-gone century,
back in the days when men were men,
equalized by Colonel Colt,
and electricity was when
a thunderstorm gave you a jolt.
I’ve looked across the modern scene
that’s way past my comprehension,
and so I’m gonna live my dream,
full of joy, without pretension
and watch the world go rushing past
while on my own, I have a blast.
That’s certainly one way to respond to the world hurling toward…what we don’t really know.
Thank you Janet, for this mind-jog around all things AI.
I suppose to know the Imago Dei has become more important than ever. There is a certain peace that comes over me when I think about the ways God sees and knows me, loves me despite. I could get carried away looking at the world and a real enemy who has tried to mar my image from the beginning.
I believe, as creative writers for the Creator, we must first and foremost study what makes us human and ask how we reflect God, what makes us holy, set apart from all that can be counterfeited.
The closer we look at the Truth, the deeper our understanding of humanity becomes. In the diligent study of God’s Word, we guard against such folly and the lies which always try to dehumanize us.
We are loved. AI is not. We matter to the Creator. AI does not. We find joy and peace. AI can not.
As Satan ramps up his counterfeit images, so must we in our writing bring glory to God. We must show the world what God looks like and who we are, namely loved and created in His image.
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
Thanks for all you do to point us humanity in our writing.
Heidi, your thoughts are centering. Some things never change–such as God’s love for that which he created in his own image.
Deborah Wenzler Farris
Heidi, thank you for your beautiful words of assurance. They stir my heart, bring tears, inspire and strengthen me to stay the course. I long to one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Peggy Lovelace Ellis
I quote from above: But all those pro narrators whose names we don’t recognize, are their jobs endangered? My answer: Yes, without doubt because every advance in technology from farm tools to electronics endanger those who are performing the needed work. “The Industrial Revolution” is an era that never stopped. I, as a secretary, welcomed the change from an old Royal Standard to the first IBM Electric typewriter, so I can’t complain!
And as someone who wrote her first book, and all five major revisions, on an electric typewriter, I can only echo “amen.”
My “day job” is artist–as in one who creates with pigment on paper/canvas. I truly think it’s stealing when one uploads copyrighted images to an AI. Public domain is one thing, but that’s not what the developers did, and the artists they stole from should be compensated.
The silver lining is that I believe the value of authenticated original art will go up. So far, at least, an AI can only work digitally.
As far as publishing goes, people will buy books they enjoy, but they also like to have a connection with the authors. AI will most likely be just another tool authors can use. Yes, there will be entirely AI produced books some day, but they still won’t be the entirety of the market.
Elissa, I agree that “original” work will always be of greater value, just as any “handwork” is valued above what a machine can create.
Janet Holm McHenry
I have grave concerns about AI. One relates to originality, especially in regard to nonfiction books, which can tend to read like research papers already. Another concern is in regard to theology. Do we want AI creating Christian content? How might that be skewed or watered down?
Janet, I hadn’t thought about the theological aspect of AI. It only knows what it is “fed.” Which subjects it to having no idea what is true or right.
Janet Holm McHenry
I’m not a conspiracy theorist but it could be a tool for the enemy’s twisting of the truth.
The idea of AI gave me the jitters and a twinge of excitement all at the same time. The best thing I can see about the use of AI is with the help of research. No need for me to “slave” over information to find what I’m looking for. Let AI do it!
But it also seems like another form of technology taking over for humans. Today, we don’t have to…well, I won’t go there…any of us who have been around a while know how much technology has changed and not all for the better.
I wonder though if the bigger question is this: how many average readers will check if how a book they are interested in is written? Recently, I was shocked to learn that “most” people don’t check who publishes a certain book or bother to read the recommendations. I think this would be along those lines which is quite sad to me.
Thanks for the look at the possibilities of what’s in the future.
Susan, I agree that using AI for research seems like a good use of what it is. I don’t know how one checks the validity of what it knows, though.
Most readers pay zero attention to the publishing house, even though doing it could lead the reader to books they are most likely to enjoy. Some don’t even pay attention to the author. Sigh.
These people, I think, would have no compunction about reading a book “written” by AI.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Well, the pros … my sons have shown me some pretty funny things that were supposedly written by AI, especially of the Hallmark movie variety and political speeches. I just can’t imagine the difficulty college professors might face in discovering plagiarized papers, yikes! I wonder if there is a … kind of watermark that could be added to AI so that it leaves a fingerprint and then the legality issue would be solved? That is probably sci-fi dreaming though, ha!
Well, AI IS sci-fi. I suspect we’ll see lots of attempts to identify what’s created by AI, but those waters get muddied if AI and a writer work together to create something. It’s like the visual artist in my blog post. She’s sees herself as creating original work because she manipulates the images AI offers her. BUT those images were originally created by someone else. I do think we’ll see legislation in which entities are required to reveal if AI was used in the production of various creative works. I know legislation is being introduced that requires companies to disclose if, when you call customer service, you end up talking to AI. But no one really knows how to respond to AI at this point. We’re still struggling with the pirating of books, photos, and other artistic work available online.
Kristen Joy Wilks
So true! Oh, I realized that I was talking to an AI helper online when my photo book was accidentally shipped to Juno, Alaska instead of Washington. Not sure how that happened, ha! But the AI Customer Service Bot just kept repeating that it could print me a new photo book, regardless of my long explanation about Alaska and Washington. Not helpful, I ended up with two photo books!
Janet, I’ve been pondering this topic with how my sons may use AI for college papers. There are so many issues to consider. Your thoughts on how AI can possibly be used down the road certainly opens up a lot of opportunity for creating but also for stealing.
When you shared about AI taking over reading for audiobooks, my thoughts went to the current narrators as well. Honestly, there’s a part of me that wonders if AI will ever fully be able to rec-reate with the uniqueness of actual human, God-given creativity. It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this unfolds.
Indeed, it will be interesting. We just need to pay attention, as no one can predict the various ways AI will affect our lives–for good and for ill. It’s bound to be both.
In the 80’s I attended an AI conference. They said “natural language” wasn’t working yet, but when it did we would be out of work. [Natural Language is being able to distinguish: “Time flies like an arrow” by it’s context. It have three different verbs: time (as we track the rate of flies in the same way we track the speed of an arrow); flies (as in time moves like an arrow), and like (as if time flies are particularly fond of arrows). But the days of natural language has been around for years now–and we’re all still working, although many jobs have changed. In the 70’s people thought computers would put people out of work. But someone has to build, program, install, maintain, and analyze output of computers.
I see AI as a shift, not unlike the binders and cassette tapes (I recently tossed) from writers’ conferences in the 90’s being replaced by downloaded content and MP3 files. Probably the greatest shift in last 100 years of publishing has been self-publishing, and we all know there are great self-published books and others that are not worth megabytes used to download them. I can’t imagine how AI will effect the communication industry, but the next generation may well look back and ponder the archaic process of typing the way we marvel at typewriter that used inked ribbons.
There are days I want to yell, “Stop the world and let me off.” And then there are days when I wonder, “Will our grandkids have robot pets that can be turned off when they go on vacation?”
Libby, thanks for giving us that sentence, Time flies like an arrow. That’s fascinating to think about it’s structure and why AI would struggle with it.
Jacob Mathew Suarez
I imagine in the relatively distant future, nodes or electronic sensors will hook up to neural networks that will interface with the creative centers of the human brain and come up with works free of grammatical error. Even more complex concepts like character creation and personality or drafting stories with no outline needed will come about with great minimalization of time to mere hours. No longer would it take months and years to compose a complete manuscript. Kind of scary.
P.S. I would be very grateful if you could email me about how to navigate to the submission screen. I get sent to the main web page that appears after searching email@example.com.
• In the email I selected: Click here to comment on the post or read it in your browser.
• It took me directly to the same article/blog on the B&S website
• Scrolling to the bottom of the post was the fields to Leave a Reply
I must admit it was a bit frustrating once I clicked on Post Comment. There was no screen or window that acknowledged receipt. I clicked on it again and then got the message that it was a duplicate. Still I wasn’t sure, but decided if you received it, I would hear back if you commented a reply.
Thank you for replying,
Thanks for this feedback, Libby. I’ll let our web troubleshooter know.
I’ve played with chatGPT some, trying to get a feel for if it can do this.
Unfortunately (fortunately?) the prose is more than generic. It sounds more like descriptions of scenes from a very detailed outline than a real scene. You can tell it to write in a certain style, but it never does.
Because it doesn’t ‘know’ how to put character and attitude (and other elements) behind actions, dialog and descriptions, there’s a distinct feeling that it has no ‘charge’ to it. Very clearly dead.
All that said, it will probably get better at mimicking style, which could simulate soul. Then we’ll just have to address the issues with it ‘remembering’ details to keep things consistent.
For now I caution anybody against trying to use its prose to publish, and even more against having it outline for you, even though it can outline fairly well. It’s just too generic at this stage. But these are just my experiences so far. Everyone should explore so we know where we’re at!
TJ, thanks so much for providing insight from someone who has actually taken AI through it’s paces. That sounds like very disappointing output. Oh, no, wait, that’s very good news for creatives. At least we know that’s where AI is currently.
As a high school English teacher, I can assure you that the repercussions will be deep and difficult to quantify. I could write a book on my concerns…pun intended.
Janet Holm McHenry
Sarah, as a former English 11, 12, and AP teacher, my immediate thoughts went to plagiarism issues–already a big problem.
I could see a time not too far away, in which all written homework is automatically screened by a program that looks for plagiarism. I know, like reading homework isn’t already a big job for a teacher. But better to have AI check for AI before you dive into reading the work.