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Ellen Book on "Artificial Intelligence."

By Connie Goodman-Milone

Here is the speech given by Ellen Book, Installation Officer at the June meeting of the South Florida Writers Association. Ellen is Branch Manager at the Pinecrest Library. As Ellen Book is a treasure to SFWA, this is her treasure of a speech on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a tool for writers.


"Last month, Martin Taylor handed me his article in the April issue of the Author’s Voice. He discusses Artificial Intelligence versus Human Translators. Well, coincidentally, the marvel of AI is what came to mind when Jonathan Rose asked for me to speak to you today. After all, the writer’s strike in the entertainment industry was a huge disruptor of our viewing habits. The delays in movies and TV shows were more than just irritating, it demonstrated how dependent we have become to an incessant wave of newness and freshness in content.


"For 148 days, from May 2 to September 27 of last year, the Writers Guild of America representing 11,500 screenwriters went on strike over a labor dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild fought a resistance movement against AI. What I learned at the 2023 Miami Book Fair from author Ben McKenzie was that for replacing actors, the studios can scan an actor’s body and put it into the background of any movie that they want. For replacing writers, instead of a nine month wait for a script, producers could hire one human writer to write a four-paragraph prompt. In an hour AI will create a screenplay and then just one human author is needed to polish it for copyright.

"From the 5/21/2024 article How AI Helped Write a New Novel acclaimed writer Mauro Javier Cárdenas used AI in his latest work to surprising effect.


"From the article “…literary harvesting has become a hot-button issue among writers, as thousands were surprised to learn that their books were used—unbeknownst to them—to train similar datasets. Works pillaged for this purpose came from bestsellers by George R.R. Martin, John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, and Jonathan Franzen, who have sued OpenAI out of the fear that AI will use the stolen material to create the fiction of the future, putting human novelists out of business.”


"By being so easy to use, AI use feels like it atrophies the creative muscle because we aren’t cultivating our own head space. The goal of internet reading is to speed through, rush, skim, move on. Scrolling for maximum consumption feels virtuous so hurrying writing production using AI seems like a natural progression. But I believe readers are actually comforted by the fact that human effort and soul went into their work. There is a generosity of the author’s time and critical thinking. Reliance, but then over-reliance on AI, will lead to a predictable glut of mediocre and formulaic content. I’ve already seen Amazon self-published print-on-demand materials written by AI and then donated to the library because the content was generic trash.


"At last November’s Book Fair, I ventured out on a monsoon flooded Wednesday night to hear renowned author Walter Mosley. Even with a small audience, on a dreary, rainy night Mr. Mosley shined.


"He was asked if AI was coming for his job. He said fears of AI stem from capitalism’s requirement to maximize output to accomplish its goal of monetizing everything... .AI just works with what already exists--it plagiarizes. There are currently no regulations but lots of court cases in the future. However, fundamentally it cannot do what we do and he doesn’t’ fear it. He boldly stated that “humans are evolving and becoming bigger and more mechanical, we are expanding, and we are more powerful. If it were 150 years ago and looking at today - everything would be upsetting -…. You spend your days doing what? …eating what? In our human past, we were living repetitive, non-interesting lives.”


"When asked what the through line would be his 60 or so books, Mr. Mosley responded that all his characters are struggling. And then the person who was interviewing him boiled it down to three words: “Real recognizes real.”


"He continued by saying, with the Publishing industry “you become a commodity and are assigned a lane. Locate your love of writing, chase that and write true to yourself in any genre. You have an immersed interior monologue and there is your authenticity.”


"As a writer who aims to publish, you have to have the courage to be a beginner since every piece is a new start-up. Every new work is a part of you that starts with a creativity itch forcing your idea from thought to paper.


"Returning to the Mauro Javier Cárdenas article I spoke of earlier; Cárdenas is determined to harness AI.


"He '…sees AI as an opportunity for authors to build their craft rather than as a threat. These types of tools will provide welcome challenges to writers who care more about literature than profit,' he says, arguing that it can be a means of inspiring greater novelty.


"Cárdenas…says he “may train a Large Language Model dataset on his own writing, then “start using LLMs to assess how similar my new sentences are to previous sentences. I can see myself enforcing formal constraints in which any sentence of mine that has a score greater than X has to be re-written until the score is less than X.” So, for him, AI becomes his editor, allowing him to focus on refining and enhancing his work.


"Changing gears, I read a LinkedIn Blog from a local marketing guru named Bruce Turkel, about a conversation between one of his close friends and the late, great Jimmy Buffett. When Buffett was preparing for another taxing worldwide tour, the two of them discussed what it takes to be successful, how much of it is talent, how much is hard work, and how much is just plain luck.


"Buffet said, 'I ain’t the best guitar player in the world. I mean, I can play, but …my lead guitar player, can play circles around me…He even won Musician of the Year at the CMA Awards.'


'And…. I’m not the best singer in the world either.…My backup singers are all classically trained. They sing opera and on Broadway when they’re not onstage with me. They’re the real singers.'


"So… 'I ain’t the best guitar player in the world, and I ain’t the best singer in the world. But… I’m the best goddamn Jimmy Buffett in the world!'


"The point is, Jimmy Buffett’s message was focused, original and compelling enough to have a huge philosophical and social impact on a generation. He rose to great heights by convincing his following to be as Bruce Turkel wrote “bold and a little more crazy and… willing to walk away from it all, (so) you wouldn’t have to suffer most of your life just to enjoy a tiny bit of it.” His body of work elevated a Parrot-head movement.


"In 2024, AI is a follower. In the years to come, it’s easy to predict the potential threats to the traditional role of authors but know that AI also offers tools and opportunities that can enhance your writing process and open new avenues for creativity. Rather than fearing AI, study its progression and leverage it to complement your own unique human skills and creativity.


"And of course, writers should always know, there are way easier ways to make money, so you better have the need to do this. In the words of Taylor Swift, 'Just be yourself, there is no one better.'

"So, authors, go out and write."

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