Episode 018 – Writing in the Age of AI

In today’s episode, we’re tackling a particularly hot topic: the use of AI.

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Hello Navigators. Welcome to Writer Roadmap, the podcast for writers seeking inspiration, guidance, and support on their creative journey. I’m your host, Holly Lyne, and today we’re talking about a hot topic: that of Artificial Intelligence.

Let’s begin by clearing up a common misconception: most of what we commonly refer to as AI in current technology isn’t actually AI. There is no machine around yet that can actually think for itself, but there are some applications that may appear to do so. What they actually do is analyse data input by a human and, when prompted by a human user, predict patterns based on that data. They cannot do, create or produce a single thing without a human prompter. The technology that is the subject of many headlines at the moment is actually not intelligent, but rather simply software that can respond to human prompts. They’re called Language Learning Models, or LLMs. Things like ChatGPT, SudoWrite, Claude and so on. You may be familiar with chatbots on websites, which are another group of LLMs that are intended to simulate human interaction.

What seems to be concerning people are two main categories: The machines taking over everything, and greedy corporations taking advantage of people for profit. In the writing community, these concerns manifest as the accusations that the market will be flooded with AI-written books, putting human writers out of work, and AIs having been trained on copyrighted works.

I want to offer some reassurance to writers who may be swept up by the loud voices expressing fear and outrage. We are a very long way from machines taking over every human role in life. They simply aren’t that sophisticated yet. Technology is advancing quickly, and it makes sense to get legislation in place to cope with those advances, but let’s not panic about being replaced. Machines have been gradually taking on more work that humans used to do for centuries. It’s been particularly pronounced since the Industrial Revolution. I remember panic about machines replacing people on production lines when I was a kid. It was a period of disruption that seems to recur roughly once in every generation. We’re living through another such disruption.

But here’s the thing about humans: we adapt. We’re actually very good at that. I find it a particularly cynical view of humanity to assume that we’ll just allow machines to replace us and become idle, vegetative consumers. I tend to have a more optimistic view of humanity. What I see time and time again is people coming up with creative solutions to our problems and always striving to find ways to occupy ourselves and improve our lives. That’s how this technology exists in the first place – through human ingenuity and invention.

We must also remember that we have a choice, as a society, as to how much we integrate these tools into our lives. There are things we are very unlikely to ever accept; robot midwives or teachers, for example. But could a machine prepare the midwife’s coffee for her just as she takes her break? Or could a computer provide the teacher with a selection of learning materials to use in the classroom? Sure.

As writers, it’s easy to see how it could be worrying that unscrupulous people could flood the market with terrible books churned out by computers. But the market has always been bloated with trash. This isn’t a new problem. Even if a million AI-generated books hit the market next year, will it stop YOU from writing what YOU love? Will it stop you showing up for your readers? That’s your choice. Visibility has been a huge challenge for years and we all need to get creative and be persistent in order to overcome that. That hasn’t changed overnight.

We need human connection and imagination and we always will. Unless the machines violently overthrow us, we’ll be okay. And trust me, as a huge fan of The Terminator and The Matrix, I’ve had moments of concern about the future, but we must remember that these are works of fiction! And if you’re as big a fan of The Terminator as me, you’ll know that the future is not set…

So be more human. Whether you choose to use AI tools to assist your creativity or productivity or not, be your wonderful self and be approachable for readers.

Now, as for the role of corporations in all of this, I do think there are legitimate concerns here. We all know that big businesses put profit before people. They are going to replace workforces with machines where possible in order to save money. Chatbots have cut call centre staff dramatically. Right now, it’s the relatively low-skilled jobs that are most at risk. But is that such a bad thing? Like I said, I’m an optimist about human nature. If we are able to free ourselves from menial tasks it generates more time for the things in life that really matter such as creativity, nurturing human connections, and exploration.

As for the use of copyrighted material, that’s for the courts to decide, but the are precedents for the use of such materials for research as being fair use. It’s hard to argue a valid case that any income has been lost and as the technology stands right now, it’s not possible to use an LLM to produce an entire novel that accurately reads like another author. Even if it was, you can’t copyright a writing style. All LLMs really do, when you think about it, is exactly what people do, but faster.

As writers, we’ve all read lots of books, sometimes consciously researching a genre or style, and been inspired to write something based on all of that input. How many of us read a book and decided that we could write something like that? I’d be confident to bet that most writers got started that way. Maybe, like me, you wrote fanfiction. Maybe you still do. As long as you don’t try to profit off of works under copyright, there’s nothing wrong with that. As for public domain works, there’s an entire niche of very successful authors making a living writing Jane Austin fanfiction!

The reality is that we can choose how to respond to the headlines. We can choose to brush it off and get on with writing the next book. Personally, I choose not to spend my time chasing down pirated copies of my books. It’s a fruitless task because it’s like playing whack-a-mole. You send a takedown notice to one site and another pops up in its place. It’s not worth my time to worry. Just as it’s not worth my time to worry whether an LLM was trained on my work, be it published books, or the many blog posts I’ve written which are available on the internet. It doesn’t actually affect me. It doesn’t really affect George RR Martin either. Personally, I think he should concentrate his efforts on writing the book that his fans have been waiting twelve years for. But that’s another episode.

So, while these court cases are in progress and this subject dominates news and social media, maybe consider muting a few author groups, unsubscribing from news sites and focusing on your writing or something else for a while? Let the dust settle and see what the situation is in six months or a year.
As always, I’m here to guide you on your writing journey. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this subject join our Patreon community for more personalized support at patreon.com/hollylyne.

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Until next time, happy planning, Navigators, and may your writing road be smooth and fulfilling!

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