A.I. and Writing, 2023

One of the key points of the current strikes has to do with the use of A.I. in the arts. Writers don’t want to be replaced. Actors don’t want their voice and appearance copied and duplicated forever, used over and over by the studios without compensating the original actors. There are other factors involved, but today I’m focusing on A.I. and its use in the arts.

There are some talking points with regards to A.I. that are passed around. One is about semantics, in which people are saying, “It’s not really artificial intelligence.” There is another argument regarding the creativity of A.I., which says, “It’s not producing anything new, it’s just stealing from what’s come before.” I think there are a few others points, but these are the main two I see in social media.

Personally, I don’t think it matters if you call it A.I. or not. It performs. It’s generating stories, and artwork, and it’s writing code. The quality of what is being generated is up for debate, but what it’s creating is passable, and getting better all the time.

With regards to what the A.I.’s are producing, I don’t know that it matters if the machine is actually creating or not. To the artists that are getting duplicated, it matters. Do not misunderstand what I’m saying here. What I’m saying is that, a machine is taking a bunch of different sources and combining them to produce things that can appear novel. I don’t think it matters if the muse whispered into the A.I.’s figurative ear or not.

As an example, I asked the 3rd generation of ChatGPT to write a short Cyberpunk story in the style of Mark Twain. It generated what I asked for. Was it good? Not really. But it was interesting, and it was novel. It took styles that existed in the world before and blended them together to make something new. Arguing that the machine was not creative does not matter in the face of the evidence, which was a Cyberpunk story in the style of a writer that was dead a hundred years before the genre was even born.

Am I saying that any of this is good? Am I arguing for the machines, advocating for the A.I. right now?

Hell no.

The machines should be used to do the labor we don’t want to do, freeing up humans to make art and beauty. It should not be the other way around, which is what the studio execs seem to want.

I have a coworker that routinely uses ChatGPT to generate code for him. It is not making him a better programmer, but I can see the logic. My coworker is using the machine to do the menial tasks he doesn’t want to do himself. He’s trying to get A.I. to save him time, which seems like the correct use of the application.

I can see a future where gaming is made even more awesome with the addition of A.I. Imagine being a GM and while you’re running a game, the players decide to take a path you’re completely unprepared for. Imagine being able to turn to the A.I. and have it generate bits of the world you hadn’t considered, with some spontaneous NPCs, and maybe a dungeon or encounter to unveil? I don’t know. I think it could be a pretty cool asset in those cases.

Imagine a computer game where NPCs behave in interesting, semi-realistic ways, because an A.I. is powering their dialog and their reactions. Sandbox games could be immediately elevated with that kind of technology behind them.

Just because I think there are applications for A.I. does not mean I’m in favor of them taking jobs or joy away from people. The GM should still be in charge of the world and the story their running, even if they have an A.I. assistant. The game developers should still be able to inject their own story and fun into the game, even if it has A.I. elements to assist with making the world they created feel more alive.

In all of the examples I can think of where A.I. would be cool, it is acting as an assistant and not replacing real writers, programmers, or artists.

While I’m taking a stance that I think is pragmatic and open to the new technology, I’ve seen people advertising books and products on how to use A.I. to write stories or make art, which I think goes too far. There are people putting out guides for how to use A.I. tools to replace the creative components with the A.I., and I can’t help but think that these people are not serious writers or artists themselves. They are opportunists trying to cash in on the new technology while it’s still relevant.

I don’t know any writers or artists that are looking at what they do and thinking, “If only I could get rid of the part of this process where I get to actually be creative.”

Patrick H. Willems recently put out a video talking about the dangers of A.I. in filmmaking, and he highlighted a studio that uses A.I. exclusively, including the generation of the ideas. I don’t know what the point would be. Writers and artists may be hoping to get paid for their work, but most aren’t making a lot, and it’s the satisfaction of creating art that sustains us.

Let’s rap this up. I said a lot, but I might not have been perfectly clear or focused. To summarize, I think the current, common arguments against A.I. are shallow and not as important as the real problem with A.I., which is that we live in a capitalist society which values money over humanity, which further means that as the A.I. gets better and better, humanity — specifically artists, programmers, and writers — will be made to suffer in the name of profits. The technology itself has the potential to be amazing, but it’s how we use it that will determine whether the technology is good or bad.

Right now, I’m feeling pessimistic about it.