I have never been particularly excited by the idea of Artificial Intelligence (AI). It seemed something remote to my everyday life, although I have undoubtedly been exposed to numerous examples without my ever knowing it.
But today, I was blown away. A friend of mine runs a book marketing agency, and he asked me and a few other writers to try out a new AI system, known as ChatGPT. He was curious to see what we would get.
The form asked me to set out a scene (location, date, time of year, other detail) and a character (gender, age, marital status and aims). I am not a fiction writer, but I made up a potential scenario on the spur of the moment.
First, here is scene setting as written entirely by AI.
I suggested the following information: poor Paris neighbourhood, autumn, 1884, school.
It replied with:
The poor Paris neighbourhood of 1884 was a dismal place. The cobblestone streets were lined with dilapidated buildings, many of which were in disrepair. The air was thick with the smell of smoke and the sound of children playing in the streets. The autumn chill was in the air, and the leaves had begun to turn a deep red and orange. The neighbourhood was home to a variety of people, from the working class to the destitute. The people of the neighbourhood were mostly immigrants, and many of them had come to Paris in search of a better life. The streets were filled with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, as people went about their business. At the centre of the neighbourhood was a small school. The school was a single-story building, made of brick and mortar. It was a simple structure, but it was a place of learning and hope for the children of the neighbourhood. The school was run by a small group of dedicated teachers, who worked hard to provide the children with a good education. The school was a place of refuge for the children of the neighbourhood. It was a place where they could escape the harsh realities of life in the neighbourhood. The teachers were kind and caring.
Second, here is character description as written entirely by AI.
I suggested the following information: woman, 37, teacher, widowed, wants new husband and children.
It replied with:
The woman was 37 years old, and she was a teacher. She had been widowed for a few years, and she was ready to move on with her life. She wanted to find a new husband and have children. She was a kind and gentle soul, with a warm and inviting smile. She was always willing to lend an ear to anyone who needed it, and she was a great listener. She was patient and understanding, and she had a way of making people feel comfortable and at ease. She was a hard worker, and she was dedicated to her job. She was always prepared for her classes, and she was always willing to go the extra mile for her students. She was passionate about teaching, and she was always looking for ways to make her lessons more engaging and interesting. She was a great cook, and she enjoyed trying out new recipes. She was always experimenting with different flavors and ingredients, and she was always willing to share her creations with her friends and family. She was an avid reader, and she loved to curl up with a good book. She was always looking for new authors to explore, and she was always eager to discuss her latest reads with her friends. She was an animal lover.
These passages were received in a few hours, but presumably generated in seconds.
My first reaction was a mixture of shock and admiration. How could a machine take a few small ideas and flesh them out so well?
My second reaction was more critical. Perhaps those of you who are – or were once – teachers (or who simply like good writing) will share my concerns.
The writing has a somewhat stilted feel, with repetitive and dull sentences. A high school student would undoubtedly be marked down for such lack of variety.
Would one write that ‘dilapidated’ buildings were in ‘disrepair’ as these are virtually synonyms? The descriptions feel a bit trite, with little novelty.
Too many sentences start with “She…”. Too many descriptions including the word ‘always’. There is a need for paragraphs to give the writing a sense of pace.
But nonetheless, I was fascinated. The prose of AI, like that of ordinary students or even writers, can – and will – doubtless be improved with practice and better instruction. One can expect that the same exercise repeated in a year or two would show greater sophistication.
And the implications are huge. Will our novels be written by AI in the future? Or, perhaps, written by AI and edited by novelists? Will it matter, if the reader is happy?
I have been bitten. I am fascinated by AI.
Have you seen examples of AI writing before? Do such developments worry you? Or do they excite you? How would you like to see AI developed in coming years?
I’m curious, if you put: woman, 29, nurse, single, wants husband and children. How similar or different would the story be written by the AI.
As a college professor, I KNOW I’m already seeing this crap, as it’s not only stilted, it contrasts greatly with work they do in class, or simple emails sent to me.
But I am not allowed to give them a zero for plagiarism if I cannot find the source (an obscene waste of my personal and professional time to begin with, btw).
I hate everything about this because it makes cheating so much easier –
no true personal responsibility anymore, and it kills my soul.
Vicki, I used to teach English, and professors were the first people I thought of having to put up with this. My sincere condolences 💐
I really appreciate that, Deborah – thank you for your support 💛
Perhaps I should have added that teachers do have my sympathy. My son teaches English at a university in England and says that they are discussing what to do about it. I’m sure you all have a major problem knowing what work the student put in, including teachers of factual subjects.
Most of what I’ve read the is AI generated I find boring. I could tell when business owners I know switched to AI for the social medial posts, and I stopped reading. In addition to being boring, I question the ethics of putting something out as if we wrote it when we did not.
Intriguing, and slightly terrifying. As you said the prose does not exactly jump off the page and as a writer myself I don’t (yet) feel threatened. AI is something I guess we all need to come to grips with before we are all out of a job. It can have very positive benefits in some areas but as yet I don’t see the point of it when it comes to art and creativity in general. I hope I’m not proved wrong!
Anne, these AI-generated paragraphs are shite. I wouldn’t read past the first page. And as an author, I find it shocking that you would find this fake way to write “fascinating.” Doesn’t your imagination come into it at all? Do you feel any excitement at the act of creating? Apparently, the thing that determines good writing is if the readers are “happy.” I would hate to have these readers. And I wouldn’t waste my time reading an author who is “fascinated” by AI.
Ah but Deborah, it’s still interesting to find a positive thought about AI-generated creativity and Anne is allowed surely to share her views? But yes, the writing is just pap, the Mother’s Pride white sliced loaf of literature. I skipped most of the descriptions – no surprise, nothing to intrigue or draw me in. AI might work for bots, but not human readers who love to be beguiled, surprised and delighted by difference!
A, I was just expressing my views too. But I agree with you completely!
It’s not that I am positive about AI, but I am astonished by it. There is an old joke about the guy who says his dog plays chess but the dog’s not very good, he loses two out of three games. Like the joke, the point is that it is amazing that it does it at all. And it will get better, which makes the problem worse.