A Discipline of Language and Imagination

By ZJ Czupor, President, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
May 5, 2023

Contrary to trending practice, I did not write this article using artificial intelligence, that consumer-friendly software that can create human-like text. For now, I’ll create my own flaws. Thank you very much.

To be fair, I have not tried composing anything using AI. Part of me thinks it will produce something so mangled it would be useless and I’d have to create a piece from scratch anyway. Or, heaven forbid, it might produce something of genius, and I’d be ashamed that a machine outperformed me. Aack!

There are a growing number of AI tools that can write and are impacting the literary world. In fact, about 200 new tools come on stream every week. But you know the old saying, “While you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink.” Same with AI, at least for now, we can use it to write for us, but we can’t make it think or solve problems of plotting, character, or setting. We need fluency that comes from thinking through a problem and fluency helps us solve problems related to writing and storytelling.

Machines have yet to overtake our ability to tell stories. Humans understand the world better when they hear/read stories. Stories explain our lives and the most powerful stories give people a sense of meaning within those stories.

Right now, I’m wary of outsourcing my thinking to a cold-hearted machine. Yes, it has benefits, can help with generating ideas, or introduce words I perchance had not thought of on my own. While machines offer us many benefits, they have yet to benefit us with clear thinking. Remember HAL 9000, the mainframe computer that controlled the spacecraft in the sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey? The film was adapted from a story written in 1948 by Arthur C. Clarke called “The Sentinel.”

In the film, HAL, the computer, rebels against humans and speaks to mission commander David Bowman with murderous intentions after it goes mad and kills the hibernating crew. HAL tries to kill him, too, and refuses him entry into the pod bay. HAL, says, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Stanley Kubrick’s scene is a classic metaphor for technology’s dark side. If you think about it, there’s an eerie connection between HAL and our little house virtual assistants called Alexa.

Alas, AI is ubiquitous. It can already summarize sections of text, create computer code, and build websites. AI helps decide what movies to watch, diagnoses tumors, reads maps, plays games, decides how community police forces operate, how to choose a college, along with helping administrators decide if students get admitted, and whether we can get a job and keep it, and much more. Knowing this, our concern should not be so much with algorithmic machines but with the software engineers who write them.

In an opinion piece in the UK’s The Globe and Mail (March 23, 2018), Catherine Stinson touched upon this problem from more than two-hundred years ago, when she wrote, “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) is perhaps the most famous warning to scientists not to abdicate responsibility for their creations.” She reminds us that Victor Frankenstein flees from the ugly monster he created, and “it is this act of abandonment that leads to the creature’s vengeful, murderous rampage.”

Fortunately, we’re hearing reports that scientists working in AI are starting to do better and to be more conscious of unintended consequences. Let’s hope that’s the case.

One of the artificial intelligence tools we hear about the most is ChatGPT, which is a chatbot created by OpenAI. It mimics human conversation, writes business pitches, composes music, teleplays, student essays, writes poetry and song lyrics, and can filter out racist or sexist prompts—for starters.

ChatGPT also can assist writers with plot holes, naming characters, creating an outline, ironing out dialogue, and more.

However, Mary Rasenberger, CEO, The Authors Guild, said, “Unless [ChatGPT] is constrained, I hate to say this, but it will have a negative impact on the writing profession without a doubt and on the quality of what gets published. We need to protect book culture, but how do you do that in a world that is flooded with AI books?” (Mashable, March 3, 2023)

The elephant in the room for writers is our collective concern that AI can draw upon data from other human authors and re-use it to create credible writing. The question is how long before AI gets competent at this and renders real writers obsolete?

I don’t know the answer to that question but it’s worth pondering.

Every day, we’re learning more about the benefits and challenges of AI and how these resources continue to evolve. At this year’s Colorado Gold Conference, Sept. 8-10, we’ll host a panel of experts to discuss AI’s impact on writing, publishing, and our careers. If this is of interest, or a concern, be sure to attend. Until then, remember your writing is creative and original and only you can pepper your stories with your own perspective. Just don’t tell Alexa!# # #

Check out my new series “ZJ On Tour with Dead Writers” exclusively on Rogue Women Writers!

Many thanks to author Mark Stevens for his podcast interview with me regarding my landing agent Terrie Wolf and the trajectory of my publishing career. Scroll to May 18, 2022. Check it out:

A number of my noir haiku poems, written during the time of pandemic and chaos, are featured in the anthology Stop the World: Snapshots from a Pandemic, (Thalia Press, Aug. 4, 2020).

The anthology is edited by Lise McClendon and includes authors, poets and essayists from around the world: France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Northern Ireland, Romania, Scotland and Spain. The anthology is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KOBO and Apple. All profits are donated to charity.