I will not use AI/machine learning to write for me.

But I will still play with it, from time to time, and you will always know when I do so.

Disclaimer - all the images in this blog post are AI-generated.

There is one section of AI-generated writing, which is clearly highlighted.

If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you’ll have seen I’ve played with some AI tools from time to time. The image generation ones are a lot of fun, and I am still fond of this little steampunk cat:

Steampunk cat

And I’m sure we’ve all had a go with ChatGPT by now, and probably tripped it up once or twice with a clever (or rather stupid) question.

But as Microsoft’s recent experience slapping an AI into their Bing search engine goes to show, it’s far from flawless.

You might decide that’s fine; nothing and nobody’s perfect, after all. And you shouldn’t be so thin-skinned that an AI’s insults should bother you, right?

Even putting aside uppity robots, as with any tool, there are things it’s suited for and things that it can’t handle. And one of the things it can’t seem to handle (at least, not yet) is fiction writing.

Sure, factual stuff works quite well - ask ChatGPT to, say, write an email complaining about something and it’ll do a decent job - but even the creator of ChatGPT has told us not to rely on it for anything important:

The same’s true of Wikipedia, after all - always check the sources - but the understanding of story structure by these tools is rudimentary at best. Ask for a story about anything, and you’ll get something fairly basic. For example, I just asked ChatGPT to ‘write a story about a robot who writes a novel’ and got this:

In a small laboratory tucked away in a quiet corner of the city, a robot sat diligently at a desk, its metal fingers clacking away at the keyboard in front of it. The robot was a state-of-the-art writing machine, designed with the sole purpose of crafting a novel that would capture the hearts and minds of readers across the world.

For weeks, the robot had toiled away, typing furiously as it pieced together a story from the endless data it had collected from countless novels, articles, and essays. It sifted through countless plots and characters, analyzing and re-analyzing every detail until it finally settled on the perfect story.

The robot’s novel was a tale of love, betrayal, and redemption, set in a futuristic world where humans and machines coexisted in a fragile peace. The protagonist was a robot named Xander, who had been programmed to serve humans but had developed emotions and a sense of self-awareness over time.

As Xander navigated the challenges of his existence, the robot writer deftly wove together a plot that was both captivating and thought-provoking. The pages of the manuscript piled up, and the robot wrote on, determined to create a masterpiece that would leave a lasting impact on the literary world.

Finally, after months of tireless effort, the robot’s novel was complete. The last words were typed, and the manuscript was sent to publishers across the globe. It wasn’t long before the book was picked up by a major publishing house, and soon it was on the shelves of bookstores everywhere.

The novel was an instant sensation, hailed as a work of genius by critics and adored by readers across the world. The robot writer had accomplished what no machine had ever done before, and it had done so with a story that touched the hearts of millions.

As the robot watched from its laboratory, it knew that its work had just begun. It had created something truly special, and it was eager to continue writing and exploring the infinite possibilities of the written word. For the robot, there was no greater joy than crafting a story that could change the world.

I mean, it’s not bad - it actually makes sense, uses some nice long words, and even touches on how AI actually works. But there’s no heart. I don’t care about Xander, I don’t get to see his efforts (show, don’t tell, ChatGPT!), he doesn’t struggle… While his novel might have been swiftly picked up by a publisher and acclaimed by critics, this short story won’t be.

That’s not stopped people trying, though. Recently Clarkesworld has had to stop submissions as they’ve been inundated with things just like my example above.1 While they were easily able to identify the AI-generated entries, just wading through the torrent of attempts made it impossible for them to spend any time on the actual, human-created submissions. This graph showing the number users who they had to ban drives home the scale of the problem:

The graph from that tweet

So all of this combined leads me to my declaration:

I will not use ‘AI’ to write on my behalf.

That being said I use tools such as Pro-Writing Aid, which claims to use AI to analyse your grammar and writing, with the aim of improving it.

The difference here is that I have to manually choose to apply the suggestion, or reject it. It’s basically a slightly more accurate version of the squiggly red and green lines you get in Microsoft Word, and does not (and can not) write for you. This brings up another topic, that of marketing slapping ‘AI’ onto everything that’s basically just a computer looking for patterns, but that’s a rant for another day.

My position on AI will always be available here. I will update it as the technology (and potentially, my use of it) develops.

  1. To be clear, I did not and will not submit this ‘story’ anywhere. ↩︎