Children’s book created with AI sparks controversy and accusations of plagiarism

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From Windows Central:

What you need to know

  • An artist created a children’s book using artificial intelligence tools.
  • The book has drawn criticism and the author has been accused of plagiarism, since AI created the content of the book.
  • AI tools have caused controversy in other sectors as well, including when a digital art piece that was created with AI won a competition.

The tool ChatGPT is a hot button topic these days. The tool, which uses artificial intelligence to respond to prompts, can be used to create code, respond to questions, or create blocks of text. It’s one of many AI tools that’s taking headlines by storm, due in part to controversy surrounding what people can do with those tools.

Within one week of ChatGPT launching in preview, it was clear that the tool could be used for a range of projects that are generally considered positive, such as debugging code. It was also demonstrated that the tool could create malware or be used in other malicious ways. Now, ChatGPT and other AI resources have drawn criticism for being used to create “original” work.

Ammaar Reshi, a design manager at Brex, created a children’s book using ChatGPT, MidJourney, and other AI tools. Some have credited the book for its unique origin while others have accused Reshi of plagiarism.

. . . .

One of the strengths of ChatGPT is that it’s conversational. Reshi used this fact to refine his story. He then put his ideas through MidJourney, an AI tool for generating art. After several hours of work, Reshi took the AI-generated text and artwork to create a children’s book titled “Alice and Sparkle,” which is available through Amazon.

Link to the rest at Windows Central and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG notes that when he checked the Amazon listing, the book was tagged as the #1 New Release in Children’s Computer & Technology Books. It also had eleven ratings and two stars.

PG will repeat what he has said previously – this sort of thing is going to happen over and over with the written word, just like it has with images.

He will also state that plagiarism, while not a nice thing to do, is not illegal. Copyright infringement is illegal and you can be sued for damages if you engage in the practice.

Here’s a simple definition of copyright infringement from the United States Copyright office:

As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.

PG notes that academic dishonesty, absent copyright infringement, does not violate any law with which he is familiar.

That said, plagiarism usually regarded as bad form and, in an era dominated by Google and other large search engines, academic suicide. Grammarly offers a plagiarism checker as do quite a number of other online services, many of which are free. PG would be very surprised if very many college professors and high school teachers did not use a plagiarism checker on a regular basis.

Here’s a not-so-simple definition of plagiarism from the Dean of Students at Bowdoin College:

There are different types of plagiarism and all are serious violations of academic honesty. We have defined the most common types below and have provided links to examples.

Direct Plagiarism 

Direct plagiarism is the word-for-word transcription of a section of someone else’s work, without attribution and without quotation marks. The deliberate plagiarism of someone else’s work is unethical, academically dishonest, and grounds for disciplinary actions, including expulsion. [See examples.]

Self Plagiarism

Self-plagiarism occurs when a student submits his or her own previous work, or mixes parts of previous works, without permission from all professors involved. For example, it would be unacceptable to incorporate part of a term paper you wrote in high school into a paper assigned in a college course. Self-plagiarism also applies to submitting the same piece of work for assignments in different classes without previous permission from both professors.

Mosaic Plagiarism

Mosaic Plagiarism occurs when a student borrows phrases from a source without using quotation marks, or finds synonyms for the author’s language while keeping to the same general structure and meaning of the original. Sometimes called “patch writing,” this kind of paraphrasing, whether intentional or not, is academically dishonest and punishable – even if you footnote your source! [See examples.]

Accidental Plagiarism

Accidental plagiarism occurs when a person neglects to cite their sources, or misquotes their sources, or unintentionally paraphrases a source by using similar words, groups of words, and/or sentence structure without attribution. (See example for mosaic plagiarism.) Students must learn how to cite their sources and to take careful and accurate notes when doing research. (See the Note-Taking section on the Avoiding Plagiarism page.) Lack of intent does not absolve the student of responsibility for plagiarism. Cases of accidental plagiarism are taken as seriously as any other plagiarism and are subject to the same range of consequences as other types of plagiarism.

Note to those unfamiliar with Bowdoin College: Bowdoin is generally regarded as one of the “Little Ivies,” small selective and reputable academic institutions that are located in the same general geographical area as the Ivy League schools – Harvard, Princeton, etc.

As with the Big Ivies, the Little Ivies also have terrible football teams.

Feel free to check Alice and Sparkle for any sorts of things you desire. There’s a problem with the preview link, but the book is available online at no charge via Kindle Unlimited.

7 thoughts on “Children’s book created with AI sparks controversy and accusations of plagiarism”

  1. Worth adding:

    1- The human author did nothing to hide how he created the book. And yes, *he* created it.

    2- Not only is plagiarism not illegal by itself, neither is lying about it. Or more broadly, plain lying. First Amendment.

    • I agree, he was open about the whole thing. Personally, I’m excited about where ChatGPT can take creativity. Authors can use this in so many ways to assist their process and it’s a positive thing.

      If people blatantly use it and pretend otherwise, it’s only themselves, ultimately, that are losing. I know if it were me I would use it like this:

      – Feed chat/ideas to the app.
      – View the output and see how I could ‘factor it in’.
      – See what additional ideas the output gave me.

      Yes, at the end of the day, you can get the AI to write anything you want. You cannot get the satisfaction, though, if you simply pretend it was you that wrote the whole thing and don’t credit AI.

      That’s not to say using it is plagiarism, it’s not. You fed in the ideas that you had and edited (or didn’t) the output, therefore; it’s your work but using an assistant in the process. Wow! So what?

      General Comment:
      Also, the ‘Self Plagiarism’ paragraph above, I feel, is archaic. Why shouldn’t you use some previous research of your own? Authors do it all the time and nobody calls them cheats.

      Use sensibly, and use full disclosure, and everyone simply let people be creative without constant criticism; it seems no matter what one does, someone has to criticise it! Save your scorn for Henry and Mooghan and their moaning and whining Netflix scandal.

      • I definitely agree about “self-plagiarism”, J.

        If an individual created a sentence/paragraph, etc., that was profound/nice/useful/entertaining, etc., she/he should be free to use it as often as desired in as many places as it works.

        The idea that if you want to write about a concept/idea/thing that you’ve written about in the best possible way you can earlier in your academic career, but thereafter can’t use again carries no ethical baggage as far as I’m concerned. You’re supposed to use the second-best language when you describe the same thing a second time?

        I would speculate that no 15-page (or longer) legal contract on the planet that does not include at least one “boilerplate” provision that the attorney has used a thousand times before.

        An example of a boilerplate provision is, “This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Texas without regard to applicable principles of conflicts of law.”

        Yes, there can be minor variations in the language used, but if a court has heard a dispute about a choice of law provision using this language and found that the provision was proper and should be enforced as written, any competent attorney in the same jurisdiction will be foolish not to plagiarize the same language the court has already blessed in every subsequent contract the attorney creates in the future with a choice of law provision.

        In a different field, is describing the type of metric line in a poem as “iambic pentameter” in every term paper involving the same or a similarly-structured poem with those exact words – iambic pentameter – plagiarism or self-plagiarism?

  2. Notably absent from the discussion: Is the book any good? Looking at the preview, and based on my kids having been in that age range, oh, about ten years ago, my reaction is a solid “meh.” There are lots of similarly mediocre children’s books out there. They aren’t the books that click with kids.

    The day may come when AI can write well, but that day is not today. The current generation of AI can produce mediocre writing. This is good enough for some applications. But call me when AI can write well and I will be impressed.

  3. Plagiarism is not illegal – at least in the USA and UK, but what about the rest of the World – and I’m curious as to the point does “Direct Plagiarism” become copywrite infringing? My impression is that one line from a song lyric is dodgy whilst a longer extract from a book at some point needs a fair use claim to protect the offending author.

    As for “Self Plagiarism”, if it is all the authors own work I don’t see an ethical problem, whatever the professors might think. If called upon the write on the same subject I see no virtue in paraphrasing one’s ealier work rather than directly copying it. (It may be good manners to tell the professors what you are doing but not if you think that they are small enough minded to object.)

  4. I’m struggling to understand why self-plagiarism is considered unethical. You write the paper once, and then you reference it again, and it’s a problem? In academia? Even if attributed to yourself in footnotes? Perhaps the professors really just want to know if something is an “ur-text.” As in, “Scholar first mentioned this idea in Such & Such Paper, and then expanded upon it in This & That Paper.” But … the copyright date on the papers would be a sufficient clue, no? Any academics here who can enlighten?

    As for the book, I don’t think I’d buy Alice & Sparkle for my niece. When you can see someone’s entire iris that’s usually supposed to mean they’re surprised and widened their eyes. Absent an obvious stimulus that just looks creepy. This must be creepy dolls week 🙂

    The ChatGPT sounds like it would make for a useful sounding board. Troubleshoot code and plots with one device.

  5. TIME got in on the act:

    Of note:

    “Already, some companies and brands are choosing AI technology over human talent. The San Francisco Ballet used images generated by Midjourney to promote this season’s production of the Nutcracker. A digitally-generated fashion model, Shudu Gram, has modeled for brands including Louis Vuitton. And at comedy clubs, artificial intelligence is being used to deliver standup jokes.”

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