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April 13, 2023

AI Revolution: What should writers and artists do? Part 2: Text

AI Revolution: What should writers and artists do? Part 2: Text

Where in all the fantasy worlds is the best place to be an illustrator?

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The tidal wave of AI art and AI generated text is upon us. What should writers and artists do about it? Author Julia Golding talks to Pete Williamson, an illustrator, to work out what is fair to creatives. Is there any way this can be stopped before it sweeps creatives away, or would that be like King Canute trying to stop the tide? If it is here to stay, what should the creatives be asking for in the way of copyright protection? In this two-part conversation we look at the pros and cons of these new capabilities. The first half is devoted to what human artists and writers do in the creative space, as well as the emergence of AI images and fair usage of them. The second part turns our attention to AI generated prose and poetry. Julia and Pete also consider the best place in all of fantasy in which to be an illustrator.

To see Pete's work, please go to:
For Julia's books visit:
To read the two articles that Julia and Pete mention visit the Getty Images case and for the Romance Writers' dilemma

[Music] So welcome back everybody we're now looking at the issue of text and how it's been generated by AI and this is really more the problem on my side of things as an author. So Pete have you ever used one of these like the chatbot GPT and there are other ones like that that are out there? No. Have you ever had anybody come up to you with a... I mean, for example, the first time I came across it was this new year, so the new year 2023. A family, a member of the family had written us all a poem using this. So they put in, write a poem for, you know, Julia and he put in, she's an author and she does this and that and then it produced this terrible dog rule and he did it for each member of the family and we all roared with laughter. I mean it was so funny but it was also really, really bad. - But also it's amusing isn't it, I've seen people on Twitter do it and it's initially hilarious but there's just an emptiness to it. It's not like someone's come up with something like a really witty, bad satire of a poem. It really is just a bad poem. You know, there isn't that human element to it. (EP) So next year, Chris, if you're listening, you can't do that again because we won't sit there and listen to them because we thought it was funny then. I did, so my son got a, we were talking about this on the family chat, and my son got an internship. So I had put into the chatbot thing, "Write a haiku congratulating him for getting this internship." So that was such a stupid thing to write a haiku about. And it did a really good haiku. So the joke lasts, as you say, for a certain length of time. Just, "Oh, this is, isn't this fun?" I could have sat and thought of one myself, but I don't actually want to sit writing haikus about summer internships. Anyway, so there's that side. It's the fun and game side. But I think we've also realised that it's now much better than that in terms of the reports are that it can produce academic essays that are very hard to detect as being written, but not by the student. It can write journalism. It can write content for websites. In fact, I know someone who said to me that they use it to generate the content for their websites. I mean, they would otherwise be doing it. They don't pay somebody else to do that role, but they don't feel their writing skills are that strong. So they get the, they say, "I want to say this." And then it gets turned out as a sort of, you know, that webby's that people have. And then more recently, there's been, you know, if you imagine the tide coming into where I stand as an author, nibbling at my toes is this idea that people could write books and stories. And the two articles that caught my eye about this was the announcement by one of the big sci-fi publisher, I think it was Orbit, said that they've closed to open submissions because they were getting so many AI generated submissions. And then just last week there was a very funny but terrifying article on the BBC about romance writers and whether or not they're going to be taken over by book writing chatbots. And they were basing it on Bridgerton as their, was their illustrating image for this. So I was then got worried. So I thought, okay, let's go and find out. So I went over to chatbot GVT and I put in, I thought, okay, write me a short story in the style of Jane Austen. Okay. What I got back was terrible. It was basically a really short summary of Pride and Prejudice. It didn't even bother to sort of change the names. It was just, Lisbeth was going for a walk, she was. I mean, it was just totally rubbish, utterly uninspiring. And I thought, okay, deep breath, deep breath, write a short story in the style of Julia Golding. Now that is quite tricky because I've got lots of different things I've done, but I thought, let's see what it comes back with. What it came back was so generic and so thin that it was no more me than it was anybody else, Mally Brackman or anybody else writing in my English-speaking culture. Maybe I wasn't giving it enough detail in the commands, but I don't think it is actually yet at the stage where it can write a book. We did launch a prize for new writing last week with the Pushkin Press, and as part of our rules, We did say you are no AI generated or any... Basically, you've got to write the book yourself. You can't generate the plot or whatever by AI. You're allowed to spell check and things like that, but you're not allowed to get some other... That doesn't qualify. We want you to actually write the book. So I'm sure that competitions and publishers will have to have this in mind. But going, let's look at this. So I've been using AI generated images for sort of web presence, that kind of, you know, ephemera. For you, say you wanted to write a biography of yourself for your website, and you know that a chatbot GPT can do it for you, would you be tempted to go across and cut and paste from putting a simple command, leave it to run for 30 seconds? Well, there's two elements is that I like, I'd like to write it myself, but also my, my partner's a kind of copy writer. So she, she probably, whatever I write, I pass over to her anyway. And it's, you know, it's, for me personally, it wouldn't be necessary. But I guess if you're just, if you've got a business, if you know, if you just go like, you want to like, you know, we've got friends who are good, several kinds of small businesses, if you just want to, if you're busy, you just want to press something, go away for lunch, come back and have something you can just put on your website. You know, it kind of makes sense to do it, doesn't it? You don't want to kind of have to hunt down a copy writer and pay them for an afternoon's work, when you could just press a button and get something that is going to pass muster, because it's the website isn't your main focus, it's it you're just you just want to advertise your business. So the chatbots kind of description of you is, I also think perhaps people are so used to templates and things on the internet now, and formula, that they're not really going to have an issue with seeing a chat box kind of bio of somebody, you know, it's just part, it's just what things are like now. I think it's creative people go, "Oh no, we want to have our own voice." But lots of people just want to, you know, if you've got to go out and work all afternoon, you just want to push a button and get in your van or whatever, you know, it's... (EP) I think there are places where, let's talk about the positives, where so for example, we've all done the thing where we've read instructions for something that's come from abroad and the translation has been a really terrible Google translate equivalent where it makes no sense at all. I can imagine there is an improvement of communication that this allows for people who are saying, "Write me a set of instructions or a recipe. These are the things that need to be in it." Or even having it in the original language and saying, "Translate this and put it in good English." I mean, I can imagine that is going to do a better job. So those sorts of communication aspects. And also it helps people who do find it difficult to write and perhaps have dyslexia or something where they know what they want to say, but the actual, for me, it's super easy to write 500 words, but for them that might be like, oh, you know, running a marathon. So they would say, it's all right for you, but for me, it's really helpful. I can make a good impression or I can write a good speech for my, um, you know, my presentation or whatever. Yeah, I mean, my partner gets, you know, people ask her to do their personal statements and things, because, you know, when they're 18, 19, or whatever, looking for work, they, and she can just, she can create something that works well in the environment that they're going into, she can tailor it. It's not a formulaic piece, it's taking account of them, because she, they're, their friends and she knows them. And, and she can really do a piece of work that they can go out and say, this is me. Whereas, I mean, a chatbot's not going to be able to do these kind of really just subtle, I mean, as a writer, you know, that this language is drawing on very subtle concepts really all the time, isn't it? Little references and emphases and things like that. Whereas I think, because I imagine chatbots, I'm not sure, I'll have to give it a go. I'll have to kind of come up with a, I'm working on it. I would encourage people to go and actually try these things out to see, to see what is going on. Let's look at the issue of - I think it's wrong in the same way as ripping off somebody's style who's got copyright is wrong. I think what's wrong in generating text is when you are pretending to have knowledge that you don't have. So if you say, "Write me a GCSE essay on Frankenstein referring to these sources, that information hasn't gone into your brain. It's also not being filtered through. Part of learning is actually adopting an idea for yourself. Otherwise, it's basically cheating. It's getting somebody else to write it for you. The fact that it's an AI writing it for you is that really is less important than the fact that you haven't thought. You've done none of the thinking because education is about the thinking. So that's clearly wrong and they need to have a way of stopping students thinking it's a shortcut when really what they're doing is they're not making the journey at all. It's not a shortcut if you're not on the journey. So that seems quite clear. The issue of is this going to be... would it be something which can write a novel? I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding here. I can understand how Orbit got fed up with seeing all these submissions, but I doubt any of those submissions were actually of any quality. It's just that they got a load of dross coming through. For example, to say that you think romance novels are formulaic is to misunderstand romance novels. So Julia Quinn, the writer of Bridgerton, her novels are actually social comedies. And okay, there is a structure and a formula in the sense of it is usually boy meets girl, though not always in romance, obviously. Boy meets girl, series of incidents, and then usually some sort of a happy ending. But that is the sort of...just in horror, you have a formula. In the western, you've got a sort of expectation. But there are so many different ways of interpreting that. It's the characters she creates in each of the books which tells a different story. In the romance genre, it goes all the way from historical to contemporary to thriller. It's not as if it's as easy to mimic as people think. Unless you care about characters and interrelations, it is a genre which particularly matters that you understand how feelings work. Yeah, it's the most deep-rooted human story that there is, isn't there? And also you will get loads of cliches. So I would quite like to be able to use Chatbot GPT to say, "Please eliminate any cliches in this passage." So the square jawed or the flashing eyes or whatever it is. I could imagine finding a use as a writer for just checking I haven't fallen into white as a sheet and all those other cliches that you tend to reach for when you're feeling lazy. So to be a bit like an editor on my shoulder saying, "Hang on, that's lazy writing." I can see a use for that. We don't need endless screeds of "He looked like a fallen angel" style descriptions of heroes, which is used a bit too much. But I don't think, because there's no personal understanding of feelings behind it, I don't think it'd be interesting. maybe there'll be a phase when there's more emergent consciousness of artificial intelligence that they'll be interested in what it's like to fall in love as an artificial intelligence. In the same way, data in Star Trek was an interesting character. But I don't know. It seems as though it's, in the end, a bit like a clever parrot. Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, having read around it, the fact that it's only taking in what people, it's taking in what people are putting into it, but it's not understanding where that stuff is coming from, is it? It's not. I used to get an illustrator's magazine and it was quite highbrow and obviously the people have been on illustration courses and then the academic side of thinking about illustration, whereas I hadn't. So they do kind of small interviews with illustrators. And one of the questions they asked, and it was obviously kind of some, a term that had come out of illustration teaching, it asked what, and initially I thought, you know, it's this ridiculous term they're asking, but it asks something like, what are the frictions that you deal with? You know, what are the things that you just want, you know, what are the problems, I guess, in a way, what are the things that stop things running smoothly in your process? And it's the idea of friction seems to be it really is about, it's a very human thing. It's just the idea in your head about how your life will be, and the everyday frictions that stop it happening. So you, AI is not going to be able to understand the frictions, but it's the frictions that make the stories that they're about. So in romance, friction is, is there, isn't it? The characters don't get together. They, or they, you know, you know, my work came out of lots of frictions, you know, just, just being a human being in the world, seeing things in a certain way, finding a way to express that. As creative people, we're kind of all the time kind of dealing with these, these frictions. And I just cannot see how AI would ever, ever be able to work that into whatever it's doing. I don't know, even if you try to write it into programmes or whatever, it wouldn't understand the idea of being a consciousness that exists and is kind of just trying to, you know, get through day to day life, which is what it, what informs the art that is, that we try and communicate with. So it just seems like there's a gaping, there's a vacuum in it, which, you know, I say perhaps romance, sci-fi things, they seem to be formulated from the outside. But as you say, then, you know, they just, they're not, they're dealing with human existence and human consciousness and human relations, which is always friction. And if, if you can't put friction into those stories, then you haven't really got a story, I don't think, have you? So there is a way where I can see it'd be useful. So imagine a scenario where you're Barbara Broccoli, I know that's, you know, alter ego. And, and you're saying, okay, what's our plot for our next James Bond going to be before they've got writers involved? So they might sit in a room and say, okay, let's have a spin the wheel. They could do this by yanking a book off the shelf or some kind of lottery where they say, "Right." But they could put into the online AI and think up a James Bond plot set in the context of the current war in Ukraine or outer space or South America. and back would come some skeletal plot and they could say, "I don't think we'd do that. Maybe that idea though is the kind of direction we want to go in. So we want to actually have a freedom fighter from...that's a good idea. Who...and then, really important, that's a good idea. Why don't we see who writes really well in this area? Oh, who wrote Narcos? Let's find one of the writers from Narcos. We know they do good, so let's see if they want to come on too. I can imagine using it as a kind of prompt to say, "In our airless room where we're planning our next big movie, perhaps we could get some inspiration ideas that are the equivalent of putting it up on the whiteboard, you know, brainstorming." So I could see it like that, I would think that if they go on and say write us the script, what you would then get is something that should be quite disjointed and airless. James Bond actually is one of those characters which doesn't have much character, oddly, so he might do better than many other characters, but it would still feel like a puppet moving through a series of events. He's almost, yeah, but he works as like a, almost like a blank that with, it's odd, he's kind of a blank character, but with lots of charisma that people put on to him. Yeah, he is an interesting, he could be generated by A, couldn't he? I kind of feel they put the concept of their own charisma onto him and that's why I love it so much. Yeah, and that's why each actor is able to inhabit that role. Yeah. So I think that in the same ways as a writer, I can't break the loom. I can't break the AI is there. And I can see how it might, in the same ways the images inspired ideas, I could see it doing the same for people looking for ideas. I think that, like you were saying, there's a lack of human...there's a lack of feeling and warmth and content underneath it that means that it's barren in the end. So any place where you want something to be looked at and understood as a rather than musac, we should not be reliant on these tools. If they're there at at all, they should be at some sort of support to the creative level, not being the creator. That they're going to be useful to take up a certain cultural space, whether it's the inclination or budget to to commission original visions, I think, but as you're saying, they will be, it will be a really interesting thing for writers and artists and creative people to kind of to try and get their heads around because it's already being presented with a sinister air, like it's going to cause nuclear war and things. It already feels like it's, people are using that Terminator idea in a way, aren't they? Terminator 2, the machines gain consciousness and then attack us. And it feels like people are already relating AI to that. And I wonder, you know, people, it feels like it's going to be really fruitful thing for, but only if people come to a human with their human reactions. This great sinister presence in our lives as it's being presented. So in terms of what we're trying to do at the Oxford Centre for Fantasy is I've got a sort of outline of a policy which I run by you, if you think it seems fair. So we will continue to employ illustrators and designers because the other part of this are designers who may be using photographs and other assets to design things. We'll continue to pay and employ them, but we will also make use of AI assets where it's sort of things which you wouldn't be paying someone to do otherwise. wasn't a budget for that. It's just the stuff that makes things pretty. In the same ways we use the Canva or whatever to design things, we'd use it like that. But we'd continue to showcase and celebrate illustrators, particularly for being humans of different visions. Same goes with the sort of text base. I personally won't be using Chatbot GPT to write content, but if somebody wants to generate a social media post, I'm not going to worry about that because it's social media. But if I'm judging in the competition that we're running for the new fantasy writer or anything where it matters that it's somebody's artistic vision, then we don't want the AI generator involved because that're actually sharing the creativity there with the people who program this thing, plus the myriad of stuff is hoovered up on the internet. So try and have a sort of sense of, "Let's continue to celebrate artists and employ artists, let's celebrate writers and reward writers, but also be aware that we can't do a kink and uke because the tide is coming in. There's got to be a place in the ecosystem where these things are being used. Does that sound kind of fair as policy? (AL) Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it isn't going to go away, but it's something we'll, I think it's something people will have, going back to that friction idea, people we have, they're going to have really interesting responses to it. You know, as human beings, we're going to tell each other stories about this new element in our environment. So, and as human beings, we're going to use the bits that we want and forget about them. Yeah, you're going to pirate a few, or record a few mixtapes, which I seem to remember was a thing back in the day in the 80s. So, as a bit of fun at the end, Pete, we've been talking a lot about creating imagery. I always ask my guests, "Where in all the worlds is the best place for something?" And that means all the fantasy worlds. If you had to go and be a fantasy illustrator, perhaps a children's book illustrator or something like that in any of the fantasy worlds that you've come across, where would you like to go? I'm not sure if the Dr. Seuss world counts as a fantasy world. No, yeah, why not? I mean, you can imagine transforming yourself into a cartoon in that world. I don't think I wouldn't get much illustrating done. It would be just too bizarre watching things go by. You could be in a little corner drawing everybody. Oh, that's nice. That made me think of the Richard Scarry world. you know, how busy they are. You could be a little person drawing in a corner. I was thinking of, one place that'd be quite interesting to be in would be Inkheart, the Cornelia Funke books, because there you've got this thing where if you read something out loud it comes to life. But I'm wondering about an aspect of being able to draw something and it coming to life. That would be fun. Where you could actually have a fantasy world where something comes off the page. I think I'd like to go there. Yeah, that would be, that sounds like a fable in the making, doesn't it? Yeah, no, I've just, yeah, yeah, copyright that idea quickly. Oh, no, but AI's heard it, so they're going to hoover it up and it'll be in some of our story. I wonder if being in the AI world as a human being, I wonder what that would be like, seeing all this, just trying to make sense of it actually within it. I'm not sure. So, and also just to celebrate craftsmanship, is there one illustrator that you think we should go and wait and have a look at? You mentioned several whilst you were talking, but who would you say this is a really inspiring illustrator? A contemporary illustrator that I really like is Steve May. He's just got books out with He's got a book out with Vikings at the moment. He's just got this really dynamic style. I think he seems to have come out of those early 80s comics that were just, the wiki comics that were just full of silliness. That Viz eventually started taking the mick out of. I really like him. I look to his work to kind of keep a dynamism in my own work. I really like him. And so I would say for, um, in this sort of idea of what sort of text writer would I recommend is, I don't know, I mentioned this before, but there was a book by Michael End called the, or Ender, called The Neverending Story, which then to become a film. But if you look at the actual book and find one of the early editions, what he does there is he draws your attention to the actual writing by having a green and red typeface for the different worlds you're in and illustrated illuminated letters and vignettes. So the actual book I remember adoring, the actual physical book is a great story too. So I would recommend going and having a look looking at and just enjoying really original vision through text and how it draws you into the story. So that's my tip. So thanks Pete. Thanks very much for helping me think this through. And I think this is, you know, the tidal wave is sweeping over us both. Let's see if we can emerge on the other side. I wonder if we'll be having a podcast in five years where we're all in a... Yeah, all these AIs right, taken over. - Yeah. - Yeah. - I imagine it'd be much the same as it is now. - Thank you. - Human inspiration everywhere. (upbeat music) - Thanks for listening to Myth Makers Podcast. Brought to you by the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Visit to join in the fun. Find out about our online courses, in-person stays in Oxford, Plus visit our shop for great gifts. Tell a friend and subscribe wherever you find your favorite podcasts worldwide. (upbeat music)