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The Impact of AI on Literature: A Writer’s – and Blogger’s Perspective

December 1, 2023

Great op ed piece in The Guardian this week on AI and writing by long time British writer, Monica Ali, whose latest book is Love Marriage.

This summer, she thought experiment with AI or risk being replaced by, as she put it, a monkey with an iPhone and writing app

How did things turn out for Ali?

I closed my laptop and slept soundly that night, secure in the knowledge that the bots are about as smart as that monkey with an iPhone. But deep down I knew that wasn’t the end of the story, that I had proved precisely nothing with my little experiment.

Come a couple months later, Ali was like I was, “Write me a blog post like Kevin OKeefe. Though I had never used emoji’s of flowers and rockets as AI did for my post.

For Ali,

I decided to continue my flirtation with AI, although now it felt a little dirty. Everybody’s doing it, I reassured myself as I created an account on ChatGPT. “Write a story in the style of Monica Ali.” I paused before I hit return, because who wants a pastiche of their style thrown in their face. I needn’t have worried. The bot doesn’t rise to the level of pastiche – though the words “love”, “determination” and “courage” crop up.

Wasn’t dirty for me, just the guilt of an Irish Catholic. Anything that could be made easier is wrong.

Do writers have anything to fear from AI, Ali wonders.

Can the world even read all the writing that could be created by AI?

Do writers really have anything to fear from AI-generated novels? Or could the technology work in our favour? I’ve heard of writers who release genre fiction directly on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing using AI to vastly increase their output, and Amazon appears to be preparing for the coming bookpocalypse by limiting authors to uploading a mere three books per day. Per day! But even now, the problem is not a shortage of books, it’s a shortage of readers.

Perhaps harder for AI, today, is its ability to touch me.

Can AI reach me the way Delia Ephron did with in her book, Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life? Delia channeled here grief into a New York Times Op-Ed which caught the attention of Peter, with whom she fell crazy, utterly, in love.

Or the comfort Joan Gideon gave me each night for a week reading her book, The Year of Magical Thinking. Could AI have brought comfort to my grief as Joan did – or at least told me I would need to get used to grief. The human connection.

Ali agrees, at least for now.

Perhaps literary fiction – the genre I write in – will be a harder nut for the AI machine to crack. It’s less formulaic. It relies more on depth of characterisation and elegant and innovative use of language. But remember that these AIs are babies, still sucking on dummies. By the time they reach maturity, adolescence even, they may reach a level of sophistication that is difficult to imagine today. What’s wrong with that? Perhaps nothing. But we’d feel a little cheated, wouldn’t we? Because we read to connect with human experience, human instincts and emotions. Only a human author can bring their intentions to meet our own.

If you’ve been reading me, you know I see a role for AI in writing and blogging – as an assistant.

That doesn’t mean there’s no place for AI in writing, or that “real” writers shouldn’t use it – though I envisage a future in which “natural” writers, those who don’t use AI, will become distinct from those who do. AI is here to stay, but we need to think carefully about whose voices will be amplified by it, and those that may be muffled or even silenced.

Amplified is the recurring word in the use of AI, whether writing, blogging, painting or poetry. Let AI amplify your work.