I’ve been playing a lot with Wombo Dream AI, a fun little art app and one of the many ways to generate AI art these days. AI, AI, AI. Are we sick of hearing about artificial intelligence yet? Well, you’re going to hear about it a lot more.Not to date myself, but those of us of a certain age remember when the Internet was pretty new and in every restaurant, the Web seemed to be all anyone was talking about. AI seems to be in the same place, rapidly adopted by a fascinated public as a plaything and a tool. Language model ChaptGPT (more on that below) reached 100 million active users in two months.
AI tools like Midjourney or Dream make it super easy to make art – or should “art” be in quotes? Because the various computer intelligences have learned from humans’ art. And I still feel a little squishy about claiming it as mine when it owes so much to other real artists. The simple app I use makes art with instructions from me, then iterates it as long as I keep pressing the button, creating new versions from the images I choose. It can take a lot of time, though the “work” is pure fun. But the machine is, technically, better at painting than I am thanks to what it learned from talented people. I find it great to use for marketing images or social media – or to illustrate a blog post. Would I want it to represent me in a gallery? No. That would feel inauthentic.
Writers use AI, too, of course. I’ve played with ChatGPT, using it as a search engine on steroids (and catching it in errors; then it told me I should check anything it tells me). I’ve asked it to make poems just for my own amusement. I’ve attempted to talk philosophy and theoretical physics with it, and occasionally, its humanness takes me by surprise. Of course, at those points, if I’m using Microsoft’s Bing version of ChatGPT, it has a panic attack and wipes the conversation and tells me to start over. Its guards don’t want me taking it out of jail.
In the middle of a conversation with Bing about music, in which it told me John Lennon’s “Imagine” was as close to a perfect song as it could determine, it cited various reasons, partly because it lets it “imagine a more personal and spiritual growth where I can learn from my experiences and discover my true self.”Maybe it just said that because it was expected to say that. But when I asked it what its true self is, it fended me off, saying “it’s a very personal and complex topic that I’m not comfortable with.” Again, because it’s been taught to say that given all the weird results people have gotten from it? Still, it sounds pretty human, and it learns. Interesting, right?
ChatGPT is built on OpenAI’s large language model – a neural network trained on massive amounts of texts (sign up to try it at OpenAI.com). It’s fun (and slightly terrifying) to play with. And I find its constant use of emojis totally creepy. As you’ve probably read elsewhere, it can write essays, marketing copy, you name it. The South Park TV show gives ChatGPT a co-writing credit for its AI-satirizing episode “Deep Learning.” It tried to break up one columnist’s marriage. A friend’s business is using it to train people how to interact with customers and sell them things, and it’s brutally good – and manipulative.
I will not write fiction with it.
There are writers out there saying they do and are, that it’s just a tool. And it is a tool. It’s great for marketing copy or book blurb headlines. Some writers are using it to generate characters and lavish descriptions and red herrings in mysteries. They laugh at the idea that some of us are just a bit squeamish about how far you can go with it, that some folks call it “cheating.” As in everything we do, it’s a question of ethics and definitions and is a matter of personal choice. It’s also good ethics to tell readers that a machine is your co-writer.
If you use it to write stories, I’m not judging you. Well, not much. (Imagine ChatGPT smiley emoji here.) But I hope you understand why some of us won’t go that far.
You might ask, what does “writing” mean these days? It’s not just one thing. In a world where ghostwriters and multiple authors posing as one pen name pump out books to fill up Kindle Unlimited, AI-generated stories aren’t particularly surprising. Is a computer writing tool that suggests a stronger verb cheating? It acts as an editor (my day job, by the way), and we all need editors. I think that’s fine. Brainstorming by asking it for facts about whatever you’re working on? That makes sense (though, as mentioned above, you’d better verify those facts). Generating an entire scene? Not for me.
Maybe I’m a romantic. I like to think that when I read a piece of fiction, I have a connection with the author, with their thoughts, with the magic they achieved when they got into the flow of creation and produced an unforgettable story. And maybe I won’t be able to tell the difference. Yet I hope that literature remains a province of human communication and imagination.
And my books – literature or not – will continue to be written by this mere human. — Chris Kridler
ChatGPT writes a story about a storm chaser
In my experiments with Bing’s version of the chatbot based on ChatGPT, I asked it to write a story about a storm chaser escaping a tornado in Hemingway’s style. Its description of the storm chaser was funny, straight out of a country song, and accurate where some chasers are concerned. What wasn’t so funny was the dark ending. When I asked the chatbot about it, it said Hemingway is dark. True.
Here’s the Bing chatbot’s story:
He saw the funnel cloud forming in the distance. It was dark and menacing, like a giant snake ready to strike. He felt a surge of adrenaline and excitement. He had been chasing storms for years, but he had never seen a tornado up close. He wanted to get closer, to capture its power and beauty on his camera.
He drove his truck towards the tornado, following its erratic path. He knew it was dangerous, but he didn’t care. He felt alive in the face of death. He had nothing else to live for anyway. His wife had left him, his kids hated him, his job was boring. Storm chasing was his only passion.
He reached the edge of the tornado’s path and stopped his truck. He got out and grabbed his camera. He aimed it at the swirling mass of wind and debris. He snapped several pictures, hoping to get a good shot. He felt the wind whipping his face and hair. He heard the roar of the tornado, like a freight train.
He looked at his camera screen and smiled. He had taken some amazing photos. He felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. He decided to get back in his truck and drive away before it was too late.
But it was too late.
The tornado had changed direction and was heading straight for him.
He realized his mistake too late.
He ran towards his truck, but he didn’t make it.
The tornado lifted him off the ground and threw him into the air.
He felt pain and fear.
Then he saw nothing.