Will AI revolutionize the way we read and write books?

Since its launch, ChatGPT has been a topic inundating every information feed. The AI language model can produce essays, articles, and code in seconds at the behest of a single prompt—introducing threats across schools, creative jobs, and some tech companies. One writer tweeted about a client wanting to cut him loose in place of ChatGPT, offering instead to pay him half the rate to edit ChatGPT’s generated content.

An AI language model doesn’t have opinions; anything it generates is an amalgam of information based on the data it’s been trained on. Knowing this didn’t deter my curiosity, and I asked ChatGPT if its existence would make writers obsolete. It told me that human writers would remain necessary: their abilities to create nuance and novelty based on human experience and emotion is something machines cannot replicate. I agree—maybe until we reach a point where we can plant artificial memories into our models. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Blade Runner 2048’s plot lives in my head rent-free.

Knowing that this kind of tool can spew out intelligible written content in mere seconds begs the question: how will this affect the way we create and consume stories?

We’ll produce stories at an even more prolific rate.

A few weeks ago, I used ChatGPT to draft something for work. It produced a comprehensible blog, but I rewrote 90% of it. The tone was too generic, and the information was too basic. It reported statistics and provided examples and definitions well enough but fell short of connecting ideas and arguments to support a claim. The worst part? It started its conclusion with the words “in conclusion”. But this makes sense: it consolidates information based on the data it has processed and learned. Despite the rewriting I had to do, the time required to write my first readable draft was cut in nearly half.

ChatGPT can help you write faster. I imagine that authors everywhere, should they choose to use it, could probably turn in full manuscripts in less than a year. Books will be published at rapid rates; publishers would probably only have to slate books months before their release dates instead of one to two years ahead of time.

Perhaps we will see an onslaught of self-published books saturating the market, as ChatGPT can make the entire novel-writing endeavor less intimidating. But at what cost? Is more necessarily better? Netflix, for example, adds dozens of new shows and movies to its inventory weekly. But what percentage of those are actual winners? How many of these do people want to watch from beginning to end?

We can ask the same question about books. The selection will certainly expand for readers, but will that sizeable contribution translate to stories we want to read and books we want to buy? Will books written with the support of AI introduce a stigma that could alter book-buying behavior? How would it affect reader preferences in romance and science-fiction, for example?

Human-written stories will be valued at a premium.

Basic economics tells us that scarcity creates value. A market saturated with AI-generated content—even if co-produced with a human author—could lead to a greater appreciation for completely human-written stories. Think about the way we appreciate handmade or artisan goods like cups, paintings, farmer’s markets, or bags. We may merely like how these things look. Maybe we support the agendas behind them, like fair trade and sustainability. To an extent, I would argue a propensity for these kinds of goods can (but not always) signal a level of rebellion against the hyper-capitalist, hyper-consumerist world we live in. Sometimes we are willing to pay more to appreciate the painstaking time and labor required to produce something of impeccable quality. We are willing to wait for our favorite homecooked meal even if fast food is, well, faster.

Similarly, writing novels is an incredibly time-consuming endeavor. For example, Donna Tartt is notorious for releasing a book approximately every decade. Quality of writing aside, part of the appeal of her books is the anticipation that builds between these long waits. If you’re like me, there’s a reason you dragged your parents to the midnight release of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix in the dead of winter. You know something is going to be good when the blood, sweat, tears, and time have been put into it.

Human writers’ jobs’ will change a little. Or a lot.

Writers could consider their jobs upended with the arrival of ChatGPT. I’m sure many felt that way with the advent of the printing press and PCs, but what we forget is that integrating new technology to make work easier takes time. Adjustment periods are never as quick as we expect. The alternative to spiraling into an existential crisis would be to consider ourselves promoted to managing editors. I can’t speak for how quickly ChatGPT will improve to produce nuanced, emotional, human writing, but I doubt any of its writing will be publishable on the first try. I think writers will always have to do some sort of rewriting, if not editing. Every first draft is terrible, AI-written or otherwise.

I don’t think human writers will become obsolete. How we write and what others expect from us will just have to change. That could mean spending less time writing, and more thinking, reflecting, or interviewing—and these are all fundamental parts of writing good stories, too.


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