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  • Writer's pictureMary

Ghost in the (AI) Machine: A Strange and Perhaps Deadly Game

I haven't used ChatGPT or even created an account. I first became aware of it when I saw many posts from fellow writers who have pledged never to use AI to write their books. I was horrified at the very idea. Writing for me is my religion; I've gotten more from fiction than institutionalized faith, in terms of comfort and guidance. The idea of plugging and jugging words into a code or equation and calling that writing, much less a novel, seems like sacrilege. I'm also arrogant, stubborn, or stupid enough to believe no computer could ever create characters like Simon O' Shaughnessy or Ainsley Ashcroft.

Because I'm not the sharpest tool in the writing shed, though, It surprised me when I learned many writers didn't share my pearl-clutching sense of disgust. "Well, I can see using it for letters of recommendation, which are so formulaic anyway," confided one colleague at one of my virtual day jobs.

After picking myself off the floor, I then learned that some authors are even publishing books with this so-called help, as ridiculous as it sounds to someone like myself who has readers who will let her know if she has so much as a typo, immediately. I mean, I guess I'm pretty bad at both making money and getting away with shortcuts, since the AI-users are apparently making a bundle and I'm reading over my current manuscript several times a day, until my eyes bleed, for every possible error.

It's a depressing thought, though, given that AI essentially cannibalizes pre-existing works, rather than generates new thoughts or ideas. AI-generated fiction dominating the publishing landscape seems like a much shallower and superficial literary future lies ahead of us all.

But I'm sure plenty of people who read CliffsNotes to get through English class are making more money than myself, and people are always hasty to tell me I should be grateful to make a living (ha) "expressing myself" as a writer, as if what I do is sitting with a purple pen in front of a tiny locked diary with a key from Waldenbooks, circa 1986.

Perhaps I'm being excessively pearl-cluchy about using AI? When I was in college in the mid-90s, a professor told the class that while he couldn't stop us, he suggested we all turn off spellcheck, because it made us lazy. Of course, now I'm using spellcheck to write this very post (which will still have the inevitable typos) and I use grammar-checks like ProWritingAid fpr my novels.

Later, when GenXer me worked for a Boomer lady and I was typing on the computer she was slightly afraid of, she would chastise me when I misspelled words and would use spellcheck to correct them. "I can't believe an intelligent person like you would make such an error," she would huff, clearly someone who believed I'd spent too much time during my childhood writing poetry and reading books rather than diagramming sentences by hand and learning phonics.

And then, there are always the anti-Kindle people who don't think I'm a real writer or reader because I self-publish eBooks.

But for me, my visceral disgust with AI isn't just drawing an arbitrary line in the electronic sand between what's acceptable and unacceptable. When it comes to content, to me, that is sacred. But it doesn't matter what I think, really. Truthfully, the way things are going--cuts to the humanities and arts in schools, AI software--I'd never suggest to someone to go into the writing gig as a good career choice, and if I could do something else at this point, I would. It's very depressing, and I feel like I'm mourning the loss of a friend.

After all, I grew up during the tail end of an era where people were afraid of surveillance via screens (1984) and super-intelligent computers (WarGames). Now people are more afraid if they don't have a screen to record themselves and connect (at least, I am, smartphone addict that I am). WarGames taught me the only sure way to win a dangerous game is not to play.

So I won't play with ChatGBT, although by "not playing," I'm not sure if the more sensible thing is not to be a writer at all!

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