Last time we talked about Artificial Intelligence (AI) I discussed the difference between general purpose and generative, or narrow purpose, AI.
In the interim, in a discussion about AI, I heard a phrase I am going to steal: looking backwards. This is the fundamental nature of generative AI, it looks backwards, synthesizes what has already been done and creates a representative sample. Looking forward, creating something new, might be possible with general-purpose AI, but it is not clear. For now, it is clearly the domain of humans.
Exhibit One: MidJourney
Let me provide a simple example from an AI art generation engine called MidJourney. I take a bit of a guilty pleasure in using it to create RPG character portraits, and in some scenarios, it works quite well. E.g. Using the prompt “a female barbarian with Asian features in a D&D art style” gave me these four images to peruse:
The results are obvious. MidJourney has looked at many images it associates with D&D and female traits and generated similar images.
Now, let us go just a bit off course. I asked for “a male Cyclops barbarian in a D&D art style.” As you can see in the image below, there is a clear lack of cyclopean features in the generated results.
There is not enough Cyclops D&D art, maybe none at all, for the AI to figure out that the character needs one eye in the forehead and no others. And I don’t even want to know how the leather straps are attached to the last guy here.
This may not seem like a big issue but if you are trying to create something novel, which writers try to do, this can be an issue. And so can consistency. Try having a character appear in multiple images as part of a story. It is comically difficult with AI, even when you’re giving it image prompts, though that can help. Text creation is just as limited.
Exhibit Two: ChatGPT
So, we can see that AI is flawed and not likely to replace human creativity anytime soon, but could it take some jobs?
Honestly, yes. If I were writing copy that is almost entirely generic and derivative, I would be looking at new opportunities right now. If I just need a single-figure portrait, and I don’t need anything that hasn’t been done a lot already, I might be able to use AI art.
Already ChatGPT creates text that is almost as good a pastiche as a high schooler might create. The following was the result for the prompt “Give me a story like The Maltese Falcon.”
Chapter 1: Shadows of a Past
The dimly lit office of private investigator Samuel “Sam” Black was shrouded in a cloud of cigarette smoke as he stared at a black-and-white photograph on his desk. The photo depicted a stunning sapphire pendant in the shape of a coiled serpent, its eyes twinkling with hidden secrets. The “Sapphire Serpent,” as it was known in the underground world, was said to possess mystical powers capable of changing a person’s destiny.
Sam’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. In walked a dame named Isabella “Izzy” Lane, a woman with curves that could make any man forget his own name. She wore an air of mystery that intrigued Sam.
Notice the use of key phrases that are often seen in pulp noir-inspired stories, like “air of mystery” and “curves that could make a man forget his own name.” If these first few bits seem cheesy, trust me the rest doesn’t get any better.
But could I see someone mining this for ideas? For inspiration? For a middle point, they could start at and try to improve on? Sure, but if a writer does this, they’ll be starting at the same middle point as millions of other people.
Still, AI does have utility and we should use it whether it is to create playlists to write to, getting image prompts for inspiration, or to see what phrases not to use in our pulp noir homage. It is a flawed tool but a tool worth keeping at hand.
Despite this burst of positivity though, I do have ongoing concerns about AI. Next time, we will talk about those and where we go from here.
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ABOUT LETO ARMITAGE
Leto Armitage was born in America under a set of circumstances that prophesied that he would one day unite the lost tribes and return the Ever Summer. Somewhere around twelve, he realized he had been left unsupervised and binged too many Arthurian movies in his formative years and that he was just another kid who accidentally got an education while reading above his age level.
By the time he turned old enough to get a passport, he started finding excuses to travel determined to find out what culture, food and women there were to experience. After learning to grill in Oaxaca, do kinbaku in Japan, and being banned from several former Soviet block countries, he returned home to settle down and see what damage he could do locally.
After working jobs including being a short order cook, bodyguarding strippers and professionally doing reader’s advisory for erotica he realized the most reasonable path forward was to become a writer. Today he lives with cats, dogs, and humans who seem to like him despite actually knowing him. He prefers to sit on his back deck, listening to the birds and Barry the Bumblebear bee, while he writes cozy, uplit romance and raunchy erotica.