ChatGPT is a tool, not a threat.
Why I'm not worried about AI-generated novels, banana cream cake for a worthy cause, and new fiction from one of my favorite writers and friends!
By now, you’ve probably heard about the recent explosion of generative AI tools. If you’re a writer or an artist, you might even be worried that AI will replace you. It’s a valid concern!
The drama started late last year, when OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research laboratory, released ChatGPT to the general public and said, “Go nuts.”
And did we ever! In the short time since then, ChatGPT, an online platform where users can converse with an AI-fueled chatbot, has sparked curiosity, fear, and several unhinged experiments. What makes this particular chatbot so powerful is that it was trained on the entire internet (well, up until 2021) and utilizes natural language processing and machine learning to offer an interactive and personalized experience. In other words, you can ask it pretty much anything, and it replies like a real person.
Another thing it has in common with real people: it’s learning all the time.
GPT-4, the chatbot’s latest iteration, was released in mid-March, and it’s touted as being even more creative and collaborative. According to OpenAI, GPT-4 can “generate, edit, and iterate with users on creative and technical writing tasks, such as composing songs, writing screenplays, or learning a user’s writing style.” The Writers Guild of America is currently considering allowing AI tools like GPT-4 into the writers’ room and enlisting it to help develop scripts. Suddenly, all those fears about writers being replaced seemed a little less hysterical.
One of my favorite newsletters,, recently covered the AI boom, but categorized these tools as “productivity software.” Rather than completely replace jobs, they’ll simply cut down the workloads in certain roles—mostly ones that require a lot of tedious first drafts. Which honestly sounds great to me!
I work on the marketing team at a tech company, an industry that’s not having the best time right now. If an AI tool can help with some of my more basic, rote tasks—conducting preliminary research, summarizing a white paper, translating a press release, writing the first draft of an article, coming up with seven variations of a LinkedIn post—I’ll have more time and space to actually be creative.
Because that’s the thing about these tools—they’re not coming up with new ideas. They’re simply regurgitating and synthesizing what’s already there. Their output may be interesting, but it’s rarely innovative.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room, the thing that creative people are most afraid of: how soon until AI starts pumping out novels, cannibalizing the industry, and destroying all hope a regular human has of ever securing a book deal?
When it comes to writing, I have plenty of doubts, insecurities, frustrations, and failures. But worrying that AI is going to write a better book than me? That doesn’t even make the list.
Yes, some people are already writing entire books using AI and selling them on Amazon. The books in question don’t sound particularly good, but AI is learning. I suppose you could make it read the 50 best novels ever written (best by whose standards?) and then tell it to write a novel based on what it learned. You could, as the writerimagines, train an AI on your writing style and influences, feed it an idea, and generate a whole book in a few minutes, tweaking and editing until it’s exactly what you imagined. Some of this is already happening, some of it will no doubt happen in the future, and all of it can feel pretty depressing for those of us who spend years attempting to close the gap between the story we want to tell and the one that eventually makes it onto the page.
But those case studies and experiments miss something important, something that’s probably sentimental and yet, in my opinion, essential. They miss the whole point of writing.
If the main reason you’re writing is to be commercially successful and sell a zillion copies, then yeah, sure, okay. Pump that AI for all it’s worth, generate as many books as you can, and hope one of them rises above the drivel and hits the bestseller list.
But if you write because you want to express something new and original, connect with other human beings, and improve and perfect an art form through a regular and sustained practice that gives shape to your days and meaning to your life, AI is not going to be much help.
When it comes to writing, at least for me, the magic is in the process. Figuring out how a plot fits together, discovering the exact right word at the exact right moment, feeling your skills and abilities and talent grow with each attempt. If you use AI to trade process for output, you’ll lose far more than you’ll gain.
For the last two years, I’ve been volunteering with the Northside Food Co-op, a community-owned grocery store that will be built in a neighborhood near me, which has been a food desert for over 30 years. It’s been really interesting and gratifying to help the group while they secure funding and land from our county, organize monthly free dinner to build community and buy-in, and partner with a co-op consultancy group to get the planning just right. At our annual meeting last week, I left with two slices of banana cream cake, a full heart, and a whole lot of hope for this incredibly important project. Can’t wait to shop at my very own co-op in 2024! 🎉
Swooning: “Transcriptions”, by Katie Jones. KJ is one of my very best friends. We met during our MFA and stayed in ILM after we graduated, which has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. She’s currently writing a series of strange internet-related shorts, and the latest installment in MayDay Magazine is spooky and sad and funny and perfect. Read it immediately!
Reading: It Had to Be You, a modern rom-com with a diverse set of characters and an abundance of delightfully steamy scenes, which I couldn’t put down. (I read until 11pm! On a weeknight!!) I’m not usually a big romance person, but I completely fell in love with this book. Now accepting recommendations for other romances that are just as smart and sexy.
Watching: Ted Lasso and Yellowjackets have both returned for new seasons. What a gift! Special shout-out to Emma for immediately upping her/our Hulu subscription in response to my desperate Yellowjacket-related text.
Growing: Today is the last frost date in Wilmington (🤞) so we spent yesterday optimistically planting many things in the garden—blueberries and raspberries, which have been waiting patiently in pots, two types of corn, and my onion seedlings, which are doing…. okay. Currently sprouting under grow lights: tomatoes, peppers, and cucamelons. Spring has sprung!
Feeling: I pretty much sobbed through this whole essay about loving an old dog, especially this quote: “The last five years of a dog’s life could be the best five years if you let them be.” Excuse me while I hug my ancient 13-year old dog and never let go.
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