Friend or Foe: ChatGPT Has Pushed Language AI into the Spotlight

From Writer Unboxed:

You’ve probably seen the buzz about ChatGPT in the news, on social media, and in authors’ newsletters. Before you’ve even tried it, you might have seen announcements of other Language AIs. You might wonder whether they are to be feared, embraced, or safely ignored. Or a ploy to steal the minutes you regained when you abandoned Wordle, or a game-changer such as was Google way back. Or are they up-and-coming authors? I hope to provide answers.

What are they?

Language AIs facilitate humans’ ability to productively use vast amounts of text. They do this by “reading” the text their developers chose, chopping the text up and transforming it to numerical measures, and using the measures to search for probable patterns. Those patterns include semantic and contextual relationships between words, grammar structure, and more. When users pose a question, the Language AI uses statistics to predict which specific patterns will satisfy a request.

Large Language AIs are true game-changers. Since ChatGPT was released, Microsoft released a version of Bing that uses ChatGPT and Google announced its version, Bard, is coming. They are large because of the billions of dials that are turning as they read massive amounts of text. ChatGPT’s dials were set after it finished reading in 2021, though they are likely tweaked in real time when users tag an answer as inappropriate, dangerous, or wrong. Bing is reading in real time so its dials continue to spin. Those dials control the AIs’ writing.

Can they create a story?

When I asked ChatGPT to tell me a story about a character who was the same age and gender and had a same event as one of my published novel’s characters, it returned a story of about two hundred words and its character’s emotional arc matched my own. Though I knew the arc was not original when I wrote it, I was rattled by ChatGPT having nailed it.

I remembered a conversation with my novel’s developmental editor about literary versus commercial endings and the subsequent revision to the novel’s ending. I wondered if ChatGPT would revise the character’s arc if I asked for a literary story. It didn’t. It defaulted again to the same happy-ish ending though its literary version added some telling where it previously relied on showing. For example, the actions and nouns of the story remained the same but it added words to describe the character’s feelings, such as “hopeful” and “resilient.”

Finally, I asked it for a story about a bestselling author who was found after a car accident by a retired nurse. ChatGPT gave no indication it could ever create a story such as Paul Sheldon’s in Stephen King’s Misery.

Later, with tropes and novelty in mind, I asked ChatGPT for stories of the characters in my WIP. No arcs were nailed so I asked about its choices. Though the back and forth was no substitute for human conversation, it spurred my thinking at this early stage of my WIP. For example, it added a water dowser where I had earlier dismissed the idea.

I then asked it to outline a 70,000 word novel using my characters. I was unimpressed by the story suggested by the outline but the act of poking holes in it helped advance my own messy notes. I asked it to revise the outline to reflect climate change weather patterns, for a different time period, to give the characters pets, and to make the cat the dowser. Till now, I’ve suspected my brain had been steeped too long in fact-finding to write magical realism, but my exercise with ChatGPT tripped my brain right into magical thinking.

ChatGPT read a lot, learned how we use words, and is able to combine those words in new ways to satisfy a users’ request for stories. Its stories are our stories–the stories that we’ve already told.

Can they write?

ChatGPT’s command of grammar is truly amazing. But when asked to tell stories, it too often begins with “Once upon a time,” and writes in a flat style.

I love the skip my brain makes when I encounter a well-placed alliteration. ChatGPT can define an alliteration and list when a fiction writer should use one. I asked it to write a story using alliterations. First, in a five-paragraph story, it used them only in its first paragraph to introduce the main character – tiny, timid, turtle Timmy. When I revised my request to specify alliterations placed within the story, a story of Sally the squirrel reminded me of the story about Sally at the seashore I read long ago to correct a lisp.

I asked ChatGPT how it detected metaphors and after it described metaphors as nouns with linking verbs, I asked for examples. Out of ten, a few were questionable and one was wrongly included. ChatGPT accepted a correction and offered a replacement.

Large Language AIs do not generally know whether they are reading fiction or nonfiction. When pushed, ChatGPT reported it may infer fiction by the inclusion of imaginative or made-up events. Though neither it nor its rivals should be mistaken for a source of truth, or a source of bestselling novels, they allow us to tap a tremendous amount of text, and we can use that to help us in countless creative ways.

Ready to try it?

Neither friend nor foe, Language AIs facilitate paths to using our vast amounts of text. For certain, they will aid our research and spark ideas as they make predictions, for better or worse, to fill in any gaps and answer our questions. Their technology will become commonplace in focused ways, perhaps as a single-purpose app that will read our manuscripts and draft our synopses and query package, or that will create efficiencies and reduce the cost of marketing novels published non-traditionally.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

1 thought on “Friend or Foe: ChatGPT Has Pushed Language AI into the Spotlight”

  1. I don’t understand the glee among so many fiction writers as they race to embrace AI as a crutch or even as a replacement for their own creative subconscious.

    On my post “AI: Um, Why?” (https://hestanbrough.com/ai-um-why/) one writer commented “When it comes to job security, Andrew Yung wrote that the only fields clients will be willing to pay for are the ones where human imagination is necessary. Now we have … faux imagination.”

    Based on an idea from that writer, all of my own stories and novels from this point forward will include the following note in the front matter:

    This fiction is a Creation, the result of a partnership between a human writer and the character(s) he accessed with his creative subconscious. This is in no part the clunky, block-by-block, artificial construction of any sort of AI or of any conscious, critical human mind. What you read here is what actually happened there.

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