The story of two people's lives
the wonderful betrayal
I have so many thoughts about AI and viewed through the lens of the current WGA strike, not many of of them are complimentary. I think AI has a place as a TOOL, much like digital painting devices are a TOOL for the imagination of the artist. But they are not a replacement for the artist. And that's what I fear AI will become or is becoming.
I wish I could say that AI will be a complementary tool. But there appears to be a wholesale push by AI tech bros to make the creative process more efficient and less error prone by removing the human element from the equation (and of course, to save companies money by not paying the human). There's a push to make creating art less tied to the complexity of humanity, when it's actually the time spent dreaming and the mistakes that are made that, in my humble opinion create the best art, whether that's paintings, photos, screenplays, novels etc.
This push to shove actual humans aside so that AI can create art instead of them should be ringing so many alarm bells. And the fact that the AMPTP refuse to agree to the WGA's condition that no AI should replace the writer at any stage of the process and instead they want to meet annually to 'discuss the technology' is a clear indicator of this intent.
Re: your beautiful account of Liz and John, you were inspired by the AI photo but your words are human. You are a human being. That's the difference.
No AI can make me feel how 'She told me on a later occasion that two days after the accident she’d taken some trash out back and discovered all of John’s brushes and paints neatly tied in a plastic bag, waiting for the refuse truck. He’d put them there before his car left the road south of Davenport' can make me feel.
Because even though an AI could technically write a sentence like this, it's not written through the lens of the human being. It doesn't have the unique world of experience that the specific human being who wrote it does. And for me, that's why I read; not just to enjoy an imaginative story, but to experience the filter through which the writer has written the story. That's a layer that AI can never ever replicate. And that's the layer which for me, is humanity. And art.
When you revealed that the couple weren’t real, I thought the text was also AI generated. If we’re not there yet, we will be soon. I think AI will soon be just as good at writing as it is with visual arts. And novels and screenplays will be written by people calling themselves authors because one of the stories would have existed without their prompts. I do not look forward to that day.
The tell for me was that you were sharing such personal details without having said you had permission.
I'm reading your short stories at the moment (finally got the book!), so I guessed Liz and John were fictional, like fictional "you" in this piece.
As for AI, I don't feel competent enough to comment yet. Let me learn some more about it, and then perhaps I could write my own substack analysys of the artificial intelligence, art, and copywrites.
Thank you for this - I've seen a lot of what appear to be knee-jerk / denial takes on what is first and foremost a set of tools. Access to synthesisers haven't turned me into Depeche Mode; Google Maps didn't make me an explorer; Midjourney hasn't made me an artist. I don't write longform drafts in pencil, nor do I turn off spellcheck so I can flex my many hours of childhood solitude spent reading Readers Digest's 'It pays to enrich your word power' section and playing Boggle.
What I have done is had a lot of fun using AI as an idea reflector and explorer - my version of your story is this set of book and paper objects: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cq50crYodNk/ these only exist because I asked Midjourney what it thought a vintage alien stamp might look like, and a whole series of 'what if...' ideas flowed. I decided that to be on a stamp you should be 'important', and quickly followed he was an explorer of some kind, and had taken various Earthly forms (processed images from stamps to then generate a 'family'). I asked myself why he explored, and invented a religion, and a home planet, and added backstory in ChatGPT. I took some wrong turns. Some of what was generated was... mundane. But I printed various bits out and assembled them in a sort of 'cache' and now I have a story - a physical story - in a box. And I tell it often. Because the three hours or so it took to make the story were joyful, playful, and in a _mundane_ way turning this digital gubbins into paper seemed rather arty. Perhaps I am an artist, after all. What's the saying - 'any technology sufficiently evolved looks like magic?'
I understand why people are getting vexed about creativity and 'synthetic' reality. But as you say, it's here, deal with it. And we've dealt with many such transformations before. But your other point, about ownership and IP is the kicker. It is not AI I fear - not the tools, not the outcomes - it's the people behind the tools. The clever people, the egotists, the altruists, the opportunists. The capacity for unintentional harm is tremendous. There is the risk of concentration of power like we've never seen before. Instead of jumping up and down about sudowrite or byword or Dall-E 451 or whatever tool is launched that day, folks should be getting on to their politicians, and getting guardrails put round it.
Because it's all fun and games, until someone loses an eye....
I am not sure this is useful but I opened the page, saw the (gorgeous) image and assumed it was AI-involved. I read the story and thought it was true.... it felt real. The ship has sailed so far it’s over the horizon. There is no way to regulate this (Congress is deluded everyone else will keep sailing along). And then there’s this: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/18/technology/ai-meta-open-source.html
It's an interesting question, about who owns the tools. This is new ground. Things have become very complicated. In music, there was much discussion around sampling, and then autotune arrived, and changed everything again. For celebrities, there is plastic surgery and digital enhancements. Deep fakes are here. "News" is manipulation.
There is a relationship between artist and viewer. How does AI change this? Does the whole question of ownership need to be examined further? Who is in control? Is this the Wild West again? How far can we as a society go with letting corporations own and control artifacts and individuals, let alone maverick billionaires with nothing much to lose and zero fucks to give? What will our world look like in 20 years? So many questions.
I love the story, by the way, and the photograph is quite evocative. Thanks for the inspiring read.
Until the sentence “The thing is… none of that’s true.”, I thought, which is a true story.
Returning to the post “Uninflected Images” is the creation of new stories that have the right to exist ...
The best fiction fools you into thinking it is real.
That's why I like your stuff.
I took this for a walk on the beach, especially since Lydia's comment nailed a detail thoroughly enough to get me thinking in another way. The bean-counters want everything cheaper in every endeavour, not just the creative, but looking at it in publishing terms has some interesting potential.
So let's agree for the sake of argument that the suits that sign off on acquisitions want it cheap and trouble-free, whereas the editors who live on the artistic side want something with a soul. I think there will be points where the suits win and AI might end up taking food from writers, specifically in the formulaic procedural - A Maverick Cop On The Edge has 24 Hours To Do A Thing - and, honestly, the reader might not be quite so worried about depth in this. Same for TV shows where cops and magic science and stuff just needs to fill an hour and be comprehensible out of order.
What AI can't do yet, and I reckon that by the time it can we'll have WAY bigger related concerns, is get those tiny human details - paints in the trash in this example - that quietly sneak up and break your heart. That core humanity might actually end up being our Turing test, since it's that essential connection that makes art, y'know, art.
I have a painfully large amount of stuff to say about this, so much that my head feels somewhat clogged, but I'll try to keep it brief.
I feel like we are lucky with the timing on this. ChatGPT was publicly released just far enough ahead of the beginning of the WGA/AMPTP negotiations that the risk that LLMs (large language models) pose to writers became incredibly clear in time for their members and the public to be able to take their warnings seriously. They have now paved the way for the other Hollywood unions, who are also in negotiations, to be able to add the issue to their negotiation agenda as well. Had ChatGPT been released after a deal was struck, I suspect that deal would have been entirely underpowered.
Because of the WGA strike, we now have a hook to hang the public discourse on which isn't just "grumpy person gets more grumpy about computers". It's incredibly important that this isn't seen as just some esoteric discussion amongst nerds, it's a real-world risk to the creative industries. AMPTP have done us all a huge favour by refusing to properly discuss it, because they've basically said the quiet part out loud and we all heard.
That said, there's nothing that will stop unethical people, who are legion, from using LLMs in unethical ways. The canary in the coal mine here is Clarkesworld, the literary mag that had to close submissions because it was flooded with LLM-generated short stories. Neil Clarke's mitigation efforts worked for a while, but now they've stopped: http://neil-clarke.com/it-continues/
Sudowrite is now saying that it can help people write an entire novel with AI. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQDVMuYjvRk
I said a couple of months ago that agents need to start thinking about what they'll do when they are flooded with LLM-generated shite. And now having spoken to a few... they just aren't and in many ways they just can't be. There are no reliable detection tools. So what happens when (not if) human-written submissions are drowned out by LLM-generated tripe?
This is going to be the bigger issue. Already fragile systems (and publishing industry systems are extremely fragile) are going to break under the weight of all the bullshit.
It won't matter whether human-written stuff has more soul, because who's going to be able to find it? And, to be honest, I don't think soul is something that sells a book, because a lot of people just don't care. Look at the speed some self-published authors are churning out books for Kindle. Some are writing full length novels from conception to publication in two months. The quality doesn't matter - their audience wants quantity and speed, and will defect to another author if they don't get it. It's a part of the market I do not understand, and I do not want to see the rest of publishing commodified (even more than it already is) like that.
They say that culture eats strategy for breakfast. When it comes to LLMs, commodification eats soul for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I wrote a few thoughts about LLMs here: https://wordcounting.substack.com/p/can-publishing-survive-the-oncoming It's a paid post, but I'm happy to give people seven day comps to read it. Just subscribe and ping me on Notes.
But they do exist! You breathed them into life. They are the creatures of your mind that are made alive by sharing them with the world. They have traveled from your imagination to ours. They can evolve, grow, develop a back story, or live forever. Their life, just like any other, has endless possibilities. Or this story might be all there is to it. Either way, they exist now.
As for AI. We have created a beautiful monster, and much like any monster, we will have to tame it, contain it, or learn to understand it and live alongside it. Time will tell if our collective panic is justified.
A liquid dump on the idea of copyright, really enjoy your ability to make sense of what is sometimes overwhelming to me.
To me it’s just a matter of fact or fiction. I can’t always tell the difference. It’s actually frustrating b/c I’m kind of a trusting person. I knew that The story of the Radcliffes was most likely fictional b/c of the picture at the top. It looked like the others that you’d labeled AI. I’m not comfortable with the whole thing as the possibilities of where it’s going are incomprehensible to me.
I’ll be in my garden raking leaves and cleaning the birdbath.. giving my poor head a rest. X