Clarkesworld's takedown of AI-generated fiction deserves a Pulitzer

Stephen Hawking had said: “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks”


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 23 Feb 2023, 7:29 PM

These days, whenever a group of writers — and I’m taking the liberty of assuming that, journalists and editors, people of my ilk, are also writers — congregate, one of the most hotly-debated subjects is whether or not ChatGPT is going to throw a spanner in our works. “Social media has already gotten mainstream media running for cover… and now this!” a friend of mine agonised the other day.

“An AI tool that is capable of writing stories double quick, without much grammatical glitches: give it a topic, ask the right questions, and voilà — a human writer’s day’s work is whittled down to a flow of a few minutes. So… will storytellers like us manage to retain our callings?” It turned out to be a rhetorical question since he immediately followed it up with: “Who needs us when publishers can get content free of cost, at the click of a few buttons?”

I am always amazed how everyone gets all ditzy and overwhelmed by the smartness of technology even though it threatens to “do away” with stuff human beings had dibs on. I mean it’s great if my life is made easier when I order my lunch in the office with the aid of an app — and not a trip to a takeaway or a phone call to a surly restaurant delivery manager — but why are we so awestruck when a robot answers a customer service call and mouths programmed responses in an annoying voice?

Which is why I told my self-censuring friend this ‘perceived’ chatbot problem is a self-created delusion. How can AI impede real creativity? And if it actually does (God help us), there are going to be consequences way more insidious than an entire species dumbing down en masse.

It was, therefore, with unbridled glee that I followed the news on Clarkesworld — one of the world’s largest and most popular publishers of science fiction stories. Clarkesworld founding editor Neil Clarke tweeted that they had closed down all submissions after they had been inundated with AI-generated content. It was “Largely driven in by ‘side hustle’ experts making claims of easy money with ChatGPT,” he said.

“They are driving this and deserve some of the disdain shown to the AI developers.”

The number of such submissions had witnessed an alarming spike ever since the writing-friendly ChatGPT was released end of last year. “Our guidelines already state that we don’t want ‘AI’ written or assisted works. They [the submitters] don’t care. A checkbox on a form won’t stop them. They just lie.

” Reinstating the notion that with half a chance to commit a fraud if it comes with a goodly side of moolah, human beings have an uncanny ability to self-destruct.

In January, Clarkesworld rejected around 100 submissions, and blacklisted these ‘authors’. And this month, the number of rejections spiralled to 500 — which led them to stop accepting submissions altogether. For the time being.

“We could easily implement a system that only allowed authors that had previously submitted work to us,” Clarke added.

“[But] That would effectively ban new authors, which is not acceptable. They are an essential part of this ecosystem and our future.”

Clarkesworld has done what any right-thinking human mind would do. Put an end to AI automation in areas where it hurts us. Yes, there will be cases like a piece of AI art (created with text-to-image generator Midjourney) snagging the first prize at the Colorado State Fair. The viral — and furious — debate that unfolded on the matter is a pointer to how deeply insecure we have become of our self-worth, and yet not prepared to walk out of a malaise of conveniences that strangle creativity and nuance and empathy, all of those attributes that make empower mankind to develop aids like technology.

At that time, Jason Allen, the ‘disruptor’ who submitted the AI art, made the situation even more dystopian, when he declared in an interview with Chieftain magazine, “I feel like, right now, the art community is heading into an existential crisis if it’s not already. A big factor of that is … the disruptive technology of open AI… A lot of people are saying, ‘AI is never going to take over creative jobs, that’s never going to be something that artists and sculptors have to worry about.’ And here we are smack in the middle of it, dealing with it right now.”

It takes a Clarkesworld — and Neil Clarke — to make a counterpoint instead of capitulating. It may be a coincidence that Clarke shares his name with Arthur C Clarke, possibly the greatest science fiction writer of all time, but let me turn to Stephen Hawking, and his theory of AI: “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.”

That is natural intelligence.

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