AI: Competition for Flesh and Blood Writers?

Tuesday, March 07, 2023
Recently Nicole wrote a post about AI writing. She wanted to know if we consider it helpful or harmful.

I must admit that I’ve been ambivalent but curious about AI’s ability to produce content. I write nonfiction so I do a lot of research. When I research current events, I often find AI generated news stories. They are never labeled as AI generated, but it is easy to see these slight, illogically organized pieces with no new content for what they are. 

But since I read Nicole’s piece, I’ve been curious. And when I’m curious I tend to spot related information. I was watching a recording of an industry panel at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) New York conference. Someone asked these agents and editors if they were concerned about being tricked into publishing AI generated content. Agent Regina Brooks had an interesting, and somewhat chilling comment. 

Brooks is the founder and president of Serendipity Literary Agency. Prior to her career in literature, she was an aerospace engineer. Her advice to the writers and illustrators in the audience was to quit fiddling with AI. Don’t check it out. Don’t take it for a test run. Why? It has a lot to do with how AI works to create. 

When AI generates content, it works from a database of information. This might be information available online to everyone with a search engine. It might include information keyed in by a writer who wants a chatty paragraph about a cozy mystery set in the 1960s. AI reformats this information into . . . something. It isn’t going to be original and it may not be logical, but that’s okay because you can correct it. 

Algorithms used by AI look for patterns. If this type of information goes here, then this other type of information comes next. There are exceptions and you can make corrections. Using AI feeds its knowledge base. Depending on the system in use, so do the corrections you make. In my research, I found articles on AI writing going back to 2019 (Computerworld). That means that people have been fiddling with AI generated content for at least two years. 

Today people are using AI to write cover letters for job applications and even submitting AI generated material for publication. But Angela pointed out something vital in her comment on Nicole’s post. The magazine Clarkesworld had to close to submissions after receiving approximately 500 AI generated submissions out of 1200. 

The good news is that the editors can still tell what is AI generated. It isn’t always logical. It isn’t always creative or original. 

But this rate of usage feeds into Regina Brooks warning. When you play with AI writing, especially as a skilled writer who will fiddle with this and that to make it work better, you are feeding the machine. You are giving it data. The more data you give it, the better it gets. 

The good news is that Brooks didn’t seem to be predicting Skynet. But if you as a writer are worried about AI making it harder for your writing to find a home, don’t help it get better.


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 35 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on April 3, 2023).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins April 3, 2023) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins April 3, 2023).


Angela Mackintosh said...

Great post, Sue! We've worked with Regina before a couple of times and she's right - using AI trains it to get better and smarter. There is a disclaimer on most of these, since they're open source, about how what you type in can be viewed or used. You mentioned two years, but I remember watching a short sci-fi film written by AI back in 2016! It has some great actors in it, and the dialogue is nonsensical and poetic at times, and the AI was trained on texts and emails. It's called "Sunspring"

I'm glad it's not that advanced ... yet. After Nicole's post, I went to ChatGP and asked it to do the same thing, write a scene at night at a cafe using the five senses. It produced almost the same sentences but in a different order! So I can imagine someone inputting "write a sci-fi story" and the editors at Clarkesworld and other publications seeing the same types of sentences in various pieces and immediately recognizing them. Still, what a waste of time and a shame when journals are struggling to stay afloat. They are all going to have to start charging submission fees to cut down on AI subs.

Renee Roberson said...

I have to say I'm siding with Regina Brooks on this one--don't feed into the machine. I've had discussions with my daughter on this, since she's both a cybersecurity student and creative writer. She doesn't like that AI-generated art is putting indie artists out of business, but she's dabbled in the AI-writing just to see what it produces as an experiment. She believes college professors are going to see a lot of AI-generated writing soon, LOL.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Hi Ang,
Wow. What a screenplay! Although, I have to say that I think it made almost as much sense as Everything Everywhere All at Once.

But you know it is going to impact publishing. After all, as you've pointed out, people are already submitting AI generated content. Submissions have closed.

That that rubbish content is a new thing. WAY back when I started writing for kids, I remember an editor or agent at a conference asking people not to send in the story about a rabbit that they had to create as an entrance exam for a certain writing school. "We see those a lot. We don't buy them."

I would be shocked if they haven't already received AI generated papers. I see a lot of assignments in the future where you have to write on X topic, in longhand, at a testing facility or in a classroom.

Nicole Pyles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathy C. Hall said...

The entire subject is a bit chilling to this a real person or a CGI created face? Is this a genuine college entrance essay or an AI writing-created one? And yes, I'd read that, too, that the AI will keep getting better and better the more that it's used.

Honestly, it all goes back to 2001:Space Odyssey and HAL. That movie--made in 1968!-- gave me the creeps and now I'm thinking it was downright prescient!

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