Not only technical masters of their craft, writers—great writers—have a deeply intimate relationship with words. When I read Hemingway, I damn well know I’m reading Hemingway. Dickens, Plath, King, Wilde, Tartt, these utterly distinct and nuanced writers are wholly themselves, immersed within their wild minds, mapping territory that could only be traversed by them, painting sentences and characters and universes that could only be constructed by them.
Most of us know a Frank Lloyd Wright when we see it. We instinctively hum along to Beethoven, can quote a few lines from Martin Luther King’s seminal speech, and somehow instantly know we’re looking at a Picasso. These cultural touchstones act as artistic ink etched into each of us.
Not everyone can—or should—be a world-famous artist, but each of us has a story only we can tell.
For all its whiz-bang wizardry, AI will never generate another Stephen King, George Carlin, or Paul Thomas Anderson.
In fact, I’d argue that thanks to AI, human creativity is becoming an invaluable commodity.
While AI is moving so quickly that Musk and Wozniak have asked to push pause on its momentum for six months, it still can’t compete with the right-brain creatives.
So far, here’s what AI lacks:
Originality: Creatives can come up with original and innovative ideas that have never been seen before, while AI is only capable of producing variations of existing data.
Emotional Intelligence + Expression: Creatives can understand and express emotions, which is still a challenge for AI. AI may be able to recognize emotions from facial expressions or voice tone, but it cannot experience or convey emotions in the same way humans can.
Subjectivity and Taste: Creative works are often subjective and can be interpreted differently by different people. AI algorithms may not be able to understand the nuances of human taste and preference, leading to works that may not resonate with certain audiences.
Intuition: Creatives often rely on their intuition to make creative decisions, while AI uses algorithms to make decisions based on data.
Flexibility: Creatives can adapt to changes in a project or client’s needs such as tone and style, while AI is limited by its programming and cannot think outside the box.
Context and Culture: AI algorithms may not fully understand cultural nuances, metaphors, and symbolism, which are often essential elements in creative works. This lack of understanding can lead to misinterpretation or misrepresentation of certain aspects of creative works.
Human Touch: Finally, creative works often reflect the unique perspectives, experiences, and insights of their creators. AI-generated works lack the personal touch and unique perspective that can only come from human creators.
ChatGPT and its contemporaries are a handy tool in an artist’s arsenal. If you know the right questions to ask, it generates factual information that can be used much like a narrative Google.
Here’s a great example of the nuance and humanity lost in AI.
I typed into ChatGPT: “What is pain?”
“Pain is a complex and unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that is typically associated with actual or potential tissue damage. It is a subjective experience, meaning that it is unique to each individual and can vary in intensity, duration, and quality depending on a variety of factors such as the type and location of the injury or illness, psychological and emotional state, and previous experiences with pain. Pain can serve as a protective mechanism by alerting the body to potential harm or danger and motivating actions to avoid or reduce further injury. However, when pain persists beyond the normal healing process, it can become chronic and interfere with daily activities and overall quality of life.”
Comparatively, here’s what Stephen King said about pain:
“Pain is the biggest power of love.”
That kind of rich, succinct understanding of language and the ability to convey complex ideas in a clear effective way is a writer’s greatest currency.
But AI can be handy. Here’s how I use it:
- Can take over the tedious tasks such as research and keywording
- Help generate ideas and structure thoughts
- Provide basic narrative that can be built upon
- Free up more time for creatives to be creative
- Collect data to see where efficiency can be improved
My hope is that computer-generated text gives more people the chance to say what they want to say, to enact their own vision, whether that be through a system helping them with planning, drafting, revising, or something else entirely. I don’t think we’ll be seeing fully computer-generated books out-competing human authors any time soon—not because computers won’t be capable (though perhaps also that), but because I think we will, for a long time, be far more interested in what a person has to say.
It’s also worth reflecting on computer-generated text from the perspective of a reader. When will computers start to interfere with our sense that a person, and not a machine, had something to tell us? It may be that readers, not writers, draw the line on what’s acceptable, but we haven’t gone far enough to have to make that decision. We may get there in this century, and we’re going to need to ask ourselves what about communicative intent is so important. If I have an idea for a novel, but the computer writes most of it, is it still my story? This question will not be answered with numbers about how many words I or the computer wrote. It’s going to be answered culturally; it’s going to be a feeling we have about where authenticity or truth really lies.
But thinking more concretely about where computers can get involved will help us answer this question, and make sure we answer it in a way that respects what we really value about writing.