AI Writing

‘AI’ writing

The recent popularisation of OpenAI’s ChatGPT has opened the conversation about all sorts of topics that normally remain sealed in the sci-fi vaults. Think-pieces speculate on fears about so-called ‘AI’ apps infiltrating our workplaces, posing as innocent helpers, only to replace human endeavour entirely…

These are fears that have been around since the industrial revolution… the same ideas that prompted Mary Shelley to speculate on the relationship between humanity and machines, a train of thought which led to the birth of science-fiction itself.

Now, though, as machine-learning models progress, these concepts are becoming easier for everyone to grasp. In the world of fiction writing, for instance, for a while now, authors have been experimenting with ways they can incorporate the output of these new language models into their writing processes.

“I know,” the thinking goes. “Let’s provide a series of prompts or a few opening paragraphs, then use the machine to generate streams of words with a veneer of authenticity, before editing it into something fit for human consumption – magically upping our word counts and making the task of writing less labour intensive…”

Here’s a long but excellent article all about the implications of these new apps for authors. In the spirit of this same enquiry, I thought I’d try an AI writing aid… and I present the results of an enjoyable hour spent messing about with it below.

I used Sudowrite, which – in exchange for an email sign-up, with no credit card info requested – gives you a 4,000-word demo before you have to pay to subscribe to it.

The results were, I think, really interesting… I thought of it as an insight into what the language and personality models of domestic robots might be like, in the beginning, at least. And it’s a gift for authors who write fiction with repetitive themes, settings and dilemmas, because it produces prose that sounds authentic, with no real agency or emotional structure behind it. It’s kind of like lift musak is to human music… boilerplate ready to be sculpted.

Instead of prose, I opted for instant gratification and wrote some poetry with it, for the hell of it. In the poetry mode, Sudowrite asks you to provide an overall concept/theme for each one, something like: ‘a moment of realisation’, or ‘a loved one who died in an accident’, or ‘a portal opens in a department store’. It also asks for some lines to start it off, up to a maximum of five.

The lines below are roughly half and half, me in black, Sudowrite in red. Some of it is verbatim, but in places, there has been some fairly minor editing of the Sudowrite lines by me to improve logic and sense, some deletions of extraneous words to foreground certain ideas, some synonym substitutions (such as ‘reverberate’ for ‘vibrate’), a couple of line reorders etc… so this is not all unadulterated, raw output. But for the most part, I’d say I’ve kept fairly true to the meaning and wording of what it came up with.

See what you think, and be sure to have a go yourself.

Cinema ODays

That photo wears out every time you look at it

The coffee tastes like a photocopy

Everything is in 

the bargain bin

And the smiles of your neighbours loop and flicker

Back inside, you cut another corner off the edge of the map

A memory of spring reverberates

Of a street you walked down once

where all the neighbours were watching television

while dead birds piled up on their doorsteps

A worried dog laid their stiff wings on the grass

And you go out to watch for more with her 

There are no more 

just lifeless dark eyes 

just gentle jaws

And the copy tastes like a photocoffee

Sikorsky, Granite Moose Of Heaven

Well of stars, nebulae

Horizons variegated

the only limit is light

Antlers scrape the sky and sunward ho

The androids belittle their makers

the new gods of the video game

point out the constellations

and say, learn this mystery

If you are worthy, you will find a way out

Filter: Dust And Scratches

Devra didn’t know he was being watched

He figured everyone could hear those sounds

Only when he accidentally turned off the white noise

and behind the garage door saw the thin wooden veneer

did he notice the static in the air had changed,

the humidity had lifted

He’d always known that his house was a little off-kilter

But now he found himself on the floor

in a dusty, silent corner of the basement

When he moved back in, he thought he could fix it up

He started with the doors that didn’t close all the way

And then onto replacing floorboards and tightening screws

But now it’s clear that his house is occupied

by his family, his pets

For years, they’ve been watching him sleep

through the staticky hum, the summer heat 

until one night, he just found himself in the basement

Portal Day

“That was probably the weirdest meeting I’ve ever had,” said Ronan

Callie smiled, but she wasn’t listening

Despite being upstaged by a leak into another area of spacetime

Ronan would keep trying to make her notice

His ambition was to be in charge of the people across the portal,

a goal that would take years of careful manoeuvring

Callie’s gaze kept drifting back to the corner of the store where

she had first seen the light appear

What if it wasn’t just a coincidence?

Maybe they were meant to do something with this portal. But what?

Ronan was still talking. “I’ve heard the frijoles are actually–”

This Piano Is Haunted

Something washes up on a deserted beach

every time you play that key with the dead note

That piano is haunted by something serene

this girl in the dead note

can’t be exorcised

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