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- U of T collaborates with Naver, Wattpad on AI research (utoronto.ca)
- An AI-based voice program did the dialog delivery for Val Kilmer in Top Gun: Maverick (zmescience.com)
- Spotify is acquiring Sonantic, the AI voice platform used to simulate Val Kilmer’s voice in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ | TechCrunch
This week we’re talking about AI. Are robots going to be writing our books now? My name is Ansela Corsino. Welcome to Adulting for Authors.
So last night, there was a blood moon. It’s a total lunar eclipse where at some point the moon turns red. I hope you caught it, because I didn’t. Yeah, it was it was just really bad luck. My window and balcony are all on one side. And I went out at 7pm. This is 7pm Manila time. And I couldn’t see the moon. So I thought, okay, it must be on the other side of the building. I’m too lazy to go outside, so I guess I’m just gonna miss it. And then … I don’t know… around 9pm, I went out to check because it was supposed to last for four hours (unless I remembered it wrong). And there was the moon! It was no longer red. And I realized it was probably just covered, you know, by clouds, the first time I checked. And so yeah, I missed the blood moon portion of this program. That was a shame, though, because it was really pretty. I saw the pictures my friends posted. So yeah, I missed that. Apparently, there won’t be another one until 2025. I hope I can catch it then.
So the news came out earlier this month. The University of Toronto will be working with Naver Corp on artificial intelligence research aimed at “harnessing technology” to empower human creativity. Now, Naver Corp is the parent company of the fiction app Wattpad. It has an enormous user base. Fun fact: the Philippines is the, like, second biggest market for Wattpad. I mean, we are a tiny country. And we are second only to the United States if you count, like, Wattpad users. So, good job, everyone.
So yeah, Wattpad is a fiction platform. And now its parent company is looking into getting software to write stories. Okay, they didn’t exactly say it that way, but yeah, I think we can all guess where this is going, right? I’m a programmer, my college degree was in computer science. And I know that there is no amount of handwringing that will stop this, that will stop the research and development into artificial intelligence creating art, or stories, or anything that we normally thought you needed a creative human being to do.
Like they say in Jurassic Park —I’m paraphrasing here, you know— just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should. That’s never stopped us. Once we get into our heads —I’m talking about humans in general, right— once we get it into our heads that, hey, you know, we might be able to do this thing. We’re gonna do it. We’re gonna try and see if we can revive extinct dinosaurs. We’re gonna see if we can get software to create illustrations. If we can get software to write stories, without a human involved. It’s, you know, something to think about. Right?
I’m not completely panicking right now. I don’t think anybody should be. I think we’re still a long ways off. I’ve seen Midjourney-generated art —”art” — and yeah, they’re all kind of boring. And oh, it’s … By the way, it’s not just art. The recent AI developments — it’s not just art or fiction, or even nonfiction — because apparently, AI can write blogs now. It’s also in narration. There are text to speech narration … I don’t mean the ones you get on TikTok, but the ones being used in … for, like, professional publishing of audiobooks. They’re actually pretty good. I mean, they don’t … they won’t work so well with, say, a steamy romance novel. Because if you’ve listen to a few audiobooks, you’ll know— no. Just… I mean I have. And I’ve seen what AI narration can do. And yeah, it’s not going to cut it, not for… not for romance. It actually works pretty well with, I guess, nonfiction maybe. I’ve listened to… I’ve listened to an AI narrated … it looks like a fantasy… post apocalypse fantasy. And it wasn’t bad. I’m sure this AI is gonna do a better job then I could, for example, but then I’m not a professional narrator.
I haven’t seen the new Top Gun — well, the newest Top Gun. I didn’t know, I think it’s a sequel made decades later. But apparently Val Kilmer’s voice was AI generated. He had some health issues and now he can’t really speak as well as he used to. So they got an AI to do his voice. And and I think this company has been bought by Spotify. So you know, Spotify is up to something right? It bought anchor, the the podcasting platform. It bought anchor a few years ago. And now it’s going into podcasts and audiobooks. I think last I checked, they had audiobooks for, I think, just the US. But anyway, Spotify is now going into audiobooks, it spent a ton of money investing in podcasts. And they just bought this AI audio narration company. So, okay, you can you can see where this is going, right?
As a fiction author, I was really more concerned with where AI was with fiction writing. I sign up to this service, it’s called Sudowrite. It uses GPT-3. It’s actually some kind of demo for GPT-3. And it’s a lot. It’s actually, like, fun to play with. It couldn’t actually read an entire chapter of a book. Because for AI to be able to write, it should be able to process, like, an entire book. So there’s continuity, right? And everything makes sense. It couldn’t do that. It had like a limit of 1000— something like 100 words or something. But there was a limit, basically. And, of course, the first thing I checked was: Can this software write fiction better than I can?
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Can this software write fiction better than I can? I mean, I’m not the best fiction writer out there. But you know, I’m decent. People pay money to read my books. And as far as I can tell, Sudowrite? No, it cannot write fiction better than I can. Not to say that it can’t write fiction better than any human author, because I’ve seen some terrible writing out there. And Sudowrite can probably do a better job at writing than some authors. But only in bits and pieces— at least this version of AI that I’m … that I tested. It can’t write an entire novel. Like, you have to prompt it. You have to tell them, “Okay, I want this to be exciting, or I want this to be scary.” And you put in details. You know: who the characters are, what the situation is. You can’t just plug in a few tropes, and they will generate an entire, like, 70,000-word novel. That’s not what this thing can do.
What I found it to be useful for, though, was… it’s a helpful way of prompting an author. Okay, I’m writing a chapter, right? And I get in I put in, like, 200 words, and then I go, “Okay, auto generate, like, the next bit.” And what I got was some pretty boring stuff, nothing exciting. So I just ended up overwriting it. And I never actually got to use anything that software generated in any of my books. I wouldn’t. But I did wonder if I could, and apparently, no. But it was a good way to keep me writing because I generate the next bit, and it would be boring. So I’d write my own. And then I go generate the next bit again. Again, I don’t like it, I’ll write my own. And next thing, you know, you’ve finished an entire chapter. It’s a pretty cool way of tricking yourself into working. And …I don’t know, maybe it’s an ADHD thing. It works for me, I don’t know if it’ll work for you, or for any other authors out there. But, you know, that’s one way to do it.
What I was really hoping this software could do was to do my outlines for me. I’m a pantser, I don’t do the the usual outline-and-then-write-the-story. What I do is, I write the story and then I outline as I go. And I have books out there which I’ve finished, but they don’t have an outline. I was hoping the software could, like, just take my book and generate an outline. Because sometimes I need one for pitching purposes. It still couldn’t do a good job of it. And it was disappointing. I thought I could let it do some of my work, the more boring parts of my work. Which is really what you want AI to do, right? To do the jobs that you don’t want to do. But yeah, that was a bust.
Still, I’m actually still very impressed by what it’s able to do. Even if the scenes it gave me were kind of boring. But you know, they were scenes, they were actual written scenes. And they generally made sense. The grammar was decent, which is more than I can say for some other writers (no shade, you can improve, everybody starts off terrible). So right now, no, AI can’t write better than us. I mean, in general, we can still beat it. But it doesn’t mean that it’ll always be that way. This is technology, after all. And technology will always advance. We work on the certain technology, it gets better. Perhaps one day, AI will be able to write an entire novel, a good one, you know, something that’s actually readable and exciting and — dare I say? —creative. And that is not today. But it might be someday.
Should we be alarmed? I think we should be cautious. I think we should be aware of these technological developments. Most important of all, I think we should put more of ourselves into our writing. We should be writing from our joy, writing from our fear, writing from the life that we’ve lived. Machines don’t have any of that, we do. Maybe someday software will be able to write an entire novel. It just means more books, and books aren’t interchangeable.
Let me tell you about the experience of a serial author. You are constantly being asked when the next chapter is coming out. Your readers are… they think of you at least once a week. And if you miss a week, you miss a chapter, they’re gonna be, like, “But you promised!” And and I get that. I… you know, that’s the experience I had when I read serial fiction too. There are, like, thousands of books available out there. Shouldn’t these readers just buy a book that’s complete? That they can read from beginning to end? No, they’re waiting for your book. They’re waiting for you to post, like, chapter 23. And then next week, they will be waiting for you to post chapter 24. There are, like, thousands, millions of completed books out there but they don’t want that. They want your book. They want the book you’re writing that isn’t finished yet. And they’re waiting for each chapter as it drops.
So books aren’t interchangeable. Even if machines start churning out book after book after book, none of them will be your book. And for some readers, it’s your book that they want. So let’s not panic, my author friends. Let’s just keep calm and carry on. Write that book of your heart. And then write another one. Because somewhere out there is a person who’s waiting to read it.
I really meant for this episode to be longer, but my neighbors aren’t cooperating. I hear a lot of thumping upstairs. Sorry about that. But I’ll be back next week with another episode of Adulting for Authors. So if you haven’t subscribed yet, please do.
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Until then, I hope you all have a very productive week of writing. Bye!
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