Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Reason AI Novels Stink

I've seen authors share this idea around the internet quite a bit the past few days. "I think the best response I've seen to AI anything has been, 'Why should I bother reading something that nobody could be bothered to write.'"

I certainly appreciate the sentiment of author-centric storytelling, but find the premise here a bit off.

I do not read a book simply because someone has written it. 

Imagine walking in to your local indie bookstore and asking to see the books written by people.

Again, I take no issue with the idea of supporting authors who author over computer-generated writing, but being written by a person is not what makes a book good.

Let's look at it this way.

There's a television program called Star Trek: The Next Generation. In that program, roughly every twenty-seven minutes, a character called Jean-Luc Picard walks to the replicator and asks for "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." He is provided, by the computer, a cup of tea, which he seems to enjoy.

I have never heard him proclaim that he can't be bothered to drink a cup of tea that nobody could be bothered to brew. He enjoys the cup of tea, presumably for its taste, though he might as well appreciate the warmth, the feeling of comfort, and so forth. The origin of the thing does not impact his enjoyment of the thing.

I have read many books (well, parts of many books) that I did not enjoy, though they were written by humans. Why should I bother reading something that I don't enjoy?

The problems with AI-generated fiction, it seems to me, are bountiful.

The writing is flat and uninspired. 

AI-generated content is shallow mimicry, disconnected from any empathy we crave in our fiction.

Since the source material is only what has come before, the possibility of something new arriving on the scene is diminished. 

Also, as study after study has shown us, the fiction marketplace lacks diversity, so you're going to get the same old thing over and over, if you rely on AI. For every Yuri Herrera book, there are 281 James Patterson thrillers. (Nothing against Patterson, but he's no Yuri Herrera.) 

AI-generated novels will merely provide more of the same, which will increase the data set for future AI-generated novels that rely on learned patterns & soon we end up with nothing but a series of Frank Norris novels. 

I don't read novels because they were written by humans, but the books I do read were written by humans. I expect to keep reading books written by humans. I want the human experience, the creativity, the brilliance. I even want to read those novels that try to do something amazing and end up failing. 

I love messy novels. For example, I thought The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu was a glorious, fantastic, amazing book that was nearly as messy as it was beautiful. There were parts of the storyline that never resolved in the way that would satisfy the holodeck on the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D). That's some of what I loved about the book. When I read that story, I could see the author reaching out, working through plot and character and telling this story, no matter where it went. I finished that book thinking how thankful I was that the book wasn't edited by someone in a foul mood, but rather by someone who let the story go where it wanted to go. (I don't know who edited that book, but they should have medals for that kind of work.) I found it so reassuring that Tom Lin was able to carry the reader along on that maniacal journey, something no AI will ever be able to do. 

You know, I think that Captain Picard might also like to get his tea from a person, rather than from an indentation in the wall.  With tea or coffee or milkshakes prepared by people, I've rarely stepped in the same river twice. A cup of coffee from a vending machine will always be the same level of terrible, but a flat white from Espresso Yourself might be a delight one day and marginally dreadful the next.

I like being excited by a new book. I like diving in, not knowing what to expect. I like the wild turns that happen at twenty-five percent or fifty-nine percent of a novel. I just finished The Book of Goose, and that is one wild ride that completely took me by surprise. No AI could have ever created Agnès and Fabienne.

The idea that we read books because people bothered to write them only takes us so far. People have also bothered to write lousy books. (I'm looking at you, Emily Bronte.)

That a person wrote a book is not reason enough for me to read a book. 

I read not because a person bothered to write a book, but because only a book written by a talented, troubled, creative, original, dedicated human can tell a story that disturbs and challenges me -- that bothers me -- in so many new and glorious ways.

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