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AI and the future of writing

By the time you read this post, it will be woefully outdated. That’s the speed at which things change in the world of Artificial Intelligence.

There are two dynamics at play with AI that are upending the creative professional world. One is around online images and art, the other is around words.

If you’ve ever published anything on the internet, it may have already fed the AI learning of many programs. That means your work might show up in a college paper, or an actual “news” article, as the AI cleverly combines the internet’s words and phrases to create a new piece of writing.

Last week, AI issues made human-generated headlines. Getty Images sued Stability AI for scraping its copyrighted online images to feed its AI. Separately, three artists launched a class-action suit against platforms such as Stability AI and DeviantArt for using proprietary art to feed AI algorithms. Remember when everyone’s social profile pics became Anime-style renderings? That was made possible from artists’ work all over the internet. It’s also why a squiggly line appeared over people’s shoulders in those renderings – that was the original artist’s signature mangled by AI. And if you’re that artist, you probably wouldn’t want your hard work stolen and destroyed in such a way.

Same’s true for us writers. Several AI programs have used online articles, whole websites, basically anything they can scrape to auto-generate text based on a prompt. This is already a problem in schools where students are having AI write papers for them. Similar trouble arose in the professional writing world came when CNET had to A) own up to using AI to generate a lot of its content after letting an AI secretly write articles, and B) issue a mea culpa when the program got details and facts very wrong.

How people feel and write about these issues vary, but a lot of the tone in media coverage of the AI phenomenon seems to be about how writers and artists should just stop whining about new technology and let it do its thing. Maybe. It might run out of things to read soon anyway. Or we may get much better at identifying when a robot made something and ignore it as a passing fancy. Nothing more, nothing less.

I personally have art that I made and words that I wrote on many websites and apps. If you’re going to use my writing as your own, just tell people where you got it in the first place. Also, you should pay me or the publisher of my work for it. I’m not the only writer feeling a little ripped off by AI systems that took without asking first. Or in AI parlance, “Opting Out” instead of “Opting In.”

Let me opt my work out. And if you’re going to automatically opt me into an AI database, pay me for it. Or at least have the guts to look me in the digital eye and tell me you’re stealing it for something you’re going to charge people for. In the end that’s the worst bit – apps that charge people to use them when they never paid a dime for their AI’s content. The lawsuits are only the beginning – artists throughout the world are scrambling to create apps and websites that are “AI-proof,” that is, a safe digital haven where work can be shown/read without the threat of it being stolen for an AI.

The internet’s not going away, nor is its ability to spread a message far and wide. It’s just going to look different in the next decade, with watermarks all over images and digital signatures attached to content.

The ironic thing is: as I, a human, write this post, a program is already scraping it for content to include later in an article about AI scraping content from the internet.

Fyalopstring. Grundabulous. Manituber.

Should you see these words show up in your kid’s college essay one day, at least you’ll know where they got them.

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