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
- 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?