The January London Writers’ Meetup was as lively as usual, with around 20 writers all discussing their latest projects, their hopes fears and plans for the coming month. It’s always great to hear what people are working on, and any tips they’ve come across recently.
One of our regular attendees, Carol, raised the subject of ChatGPT and its potential impact on novelists and screenwriters – both positive and negative. There were blank looks all round.
Carol went on to explain what this new, free, AI technology was how it can be used, and abused. Again, blank looks. The minute the meetup finished, I registered for it and started bombarding it with questions about what it can do and what kind of threat it presents.
To show how quickly these things take hold, the world (or at least the world I live in) exploded with talk about ChatGPT over the next few weeks. I work as a copywriter and journalist in my day job, and to my colleagues it was like the Death Star had suddenly appeared in the sky, about to blast our jobs to smithereens. We were suddenly gripped with paranoia about our futures, something not helped by a plethora of articles and videos explaining how my day job was about to be rendered redundant forever, probably written by ChatGPT. For free.
But what about the impact on creative writing? Opinion seems to be split between writers who are already using it to generate plots, characters and more, and those who think it’s little more than a nerd-built abomination. A writer I know already uses the visual equivalent, DALL-E, to create amazing character portraits for her work-in-progress.
Over the next few days I took to ChatGPT with paranoid vigour, asking it to create characters, plots, stories based on the ingredients I gave it. The results were impressive and frightening. With just a push of a button, this new technology produced a passable story.
So what for its future use? I think it comes down to one question: would you read a novel/see a play/watch a film written by artificial intelligence? For me, the answer is a cautious maybe. I would read an AI novel out of curiosity, but after that I would be constantly aware I was reading words assembled in order by an algorithm. An algorithm with no understanding of human life (or any life for that matter). In short, I’d feel like I’d been tricked.
But how will the rest of the world respond when we start inevitably start seeing AI-written novels and screenplays? Will people even care who wrote them? There was only one person (thing?) to ask: the technology itself. I asked ChatGPT if it was a threat to writers and it answered with a cheery poem:
Do not fear the rise of AI, my dear,
For it is here to aid, not to harm.
It can assist with writing, editing, and more,
Helping us to create and to charm.
It will not take away our jobs,
But rather make them more refined.
We’ll still have a role to play,
Our skills will still be in demand, aligned.
With AI by our side,
Our work will be more efficient and true.
We’ll have more time for creativity,
And produce content that’s brand new.
So embrace the changes that come,
And trust in the technology.
We’ll all be better off in the end,
With AI as our ally.
…but then it would say that, wouldn’t it?
London Writers’ Meetup – every 2nd Tuesday of the month from 7.30pm UK time online.
Image © Robert Mellor