‘It is a beast that needs to be tamed’: leading novelists on how AI could rewrite the future

From The Guardian:

Bernardine Evaristo

ChatGPT seems to have blindsided us all. In less than a year it has proved that it can make writers redundant, which is one of the reasons why the Writers Guild of America recently went on strike, and why a group of novelists, including Jonathan Franzen, Jodi Picoult and George RR Martin, are pursuing a lawsuit against OpenAI, the company that owns the chatbot. The worry is that its monster brain is rapaciously, unscrupulously scanning the internet and suctioning up all the knowledge and writing contained therein, including copyrighted works, which it then metamorphoses into its imitations of creative writing – poems, novels, scripts, essays, you name it. Imitation that appears to be original writing.

From my experiments, it’s obvious that ChatGPT’s current level of literary sophistication is weak – it is cliche-prone and generally unconvincing – but who knows how it will develop? Copyright issues aside, we have to ask ourselves: what will be lost when algorithms replace human creativity?

Writers like stretching our imaginations, coming up with ideas, working out storylines and plots, creating believable characters, overcoming creative challenges and working on a full-length piece of work over an extended period of time. Most of us write our books ourselves and while we are influenced by other writers, we’re not a chatbot that has been trained on hundreds of thousands of novels for the sole purpose of mimicking human creativity.

Imagine a future where those who are most adept at getting AI to write creatively will dominate, while we writers who spend a lifetime devoted to our craft are sidelined. OK, this is a worst‑case scenario, but we have to consider it, because ChatGPT and the other Large Language Models (LLMs) out there have been programmed to imagine a future that threatens many creative professions. ChatGPT is already responding to the questions I ask it in seconds, quite reliably. It is an impressive beast, but one that needs to be tamed. We cannot afford to ignore it.

Jeanette Winterson

In my book of essays about life with AI – moving from Mary Shelley’s 1818 vision of a man-made humanoid to the possibilities of the metaverse – I describe AI not as artificial intelligence but alternative intelligence.

I am not thrilled with where Homo sapiens has landed us, and I believe we are at the point where we evolve or wipe out ourselves, and the planet. There is no reason to believe that the last 300,000 years mark us out as a species that is fully evolved. Our behaviour suggests the opposite. I would like to see a transhuman, eventually a post-human, future where intelligence and consciousness are no longer exclusively housed in a substrate made of meat. After all, that has been the promise of every world religion.

I was brought up in a strict religious household, and it intrigues me that for the first time since the Enlightenment, science and religion are asking the same question: is consciousness obliged to materiality? Religion has always said no. Scientific materialism has said yes. And now? It’s getting interesting.

As a fiction writer, I know we should avoid apocalyptic thinking. The way we live is not a law, like gravity; it is propositional. We make it up as we go along. We can change the story because we are the story. This is freedom. It is also responsibility. What story shall we tell about who humans are? Warlike, violent, dishonest, wasteful? That’s part of us, certainly. It’s not the whole story – and I don’t want it to be the story that ends life on Earth. The last thing I am worrying about right now is whether AI will write better fiction than humans. I don’t care.

I would love to work with AI on a piece of fiction. We could share the royalties, and the AI money could fund more women to get involved in AI research and application. The real problem is not that AI is writing, or will write, or can write. The problem is who is writing the AI programs and designing the algorithms. Who is setting the terms of the research? Who is deciding what matters? Mainly men. That’s a problem because the world is not made up of mainly men.

For centuries men wrote our literature, our history, our travelogues, our philosophy. Virginia Woolf was not on the curriculum for my Oxford degree because she was not deemed to be of sufficient merit.

The great thing about AI is that it need not be gendered – why should it be? It has no biological sex. This could be the start of a true non-binary, non race-based, faith-wars-irrelevant world, where we humans could realise how trivial are our divisions and discriminations. At present, AI is a tool. I doubt that will always be the case. An alternative intelligence will make art of all kinds – with us, and without us. I am ready for a different world.

Link to the rest at The Guardian


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