The Borg Swarm

On John Birmingham’s website he talks a bit about how Apple conned a bunch of narrators into “loaning” their voices and work for the purpose of training Apple’s machine learning programs. Then, Apple proceeded to launch a service, Findaway, where an AI creates audio books on the cheap for authors.

Hey, I’d love to produce inexpensive audio books. They’d be great for my existing novels, and audio would bump up my sales. However, they are expensive to produce for a reason. If you want a quality product, you have to pay a narrator to read your books aloud and record them. This is a lot of work. You get what you pay for.

I don’t want to put actual humans out of work for the sake of making a quick buck.

This touches upon the reason for this post. A problem the Amazon e-book ecosystem has long dealt with has been substandard books banged out or blatantly plagiarized and released for sale. This dilutes the already massive pool of works available for sale, and it makes challenges for quality authors who seek name recognition and eventual sales on its platform.

I’ve been an author for nine years. I’ve worked hard to produce books and I’ve invested countless hours and a lot of money into what I do. Last year, for the first time, I finally broke even. This coming year I might make a profit.

So, imagine my dismay when ChatGPT comes along with its promise of artifically generated works for close to zero creative input. Now, from all reports the AI is not yet up to snuff- ChatGPT will give you a paper, a novel, or whatever, but the uncanny valley looms and frequently the AI is full of shit as it generates information based from millions of web posts, some of which are chock full of bad information.

However, ChatGPT is first-gen stuff.

I do not doubt that it will improve, and it will improve quickly, roughly based upon Moore’s Law.

This is a phenomenon that will affect us all. People say, “Oh, who cares about a few dozen people who are great narrators. The price of my audio book went down.”

Yeah, the price did drop a bit. There is a larger, unseen cost, however.

Guess what. Information jobs span hundreds of millions of people, if not more. These are all subject to being made redundant by AI. Your doctor. His or her staff. Everyone connected to customer service. Computer programming and IT. Think about it. The signs are there, and the workers in the creative industries are canaries in the coal mine. Banking has already been turned on its head, and other industries will follow.

In the near future, if it hasn’t happened already, I don’t doubt that someone will type in the prompt “80,000 word science fiction action novel style Haldeman, Heinlein, Lambright” and the AI will cough it up in a millisecond for a nominal subscription fee. Then, this notional “author” will head over to Midjourney and type in a prompt such as “alien world, hostile creatures” and pick out a book cover.

The “author” cuts and pastes his or her book into a manuscript and they run it through Findaway for voice narration.

Bam. Within an hour or so, they stick the complete package out on Amazon’s KDP service for 2.99 USD, having never bothered to read their own “work.”

It will look professional, attractive. There will be an audiobook option, drawing in the punters. The cash will roll in.

The problem is, all of it is inherently stolen work, with zero creative input.

The AI will draw it from existing internet files, built from people’s past actual work and creativity. Stolen, rather, in no uncertain terms. However, because it is an amalgamation, there will be no blatant plagiarism. Existing authors will have no legal ground to stand upon. This is a debasement of millions of hours of creative work, done by the suckers who sat down behind a typewriter or computer for many hours and thought about their creation.

Is this the future we want? Billions made redundant, for what? Cheaper goods at Walmart? Tasteless, bland auto-generated entertainment? An endless cycle of AI voices on your cel phone as you try in vain to reach a real human?

Today, it’s the creatives who have a problem.

Tomorrow, it will be your aunt in medical insurance claims.

Ten years from now, it’ll be everyone who uses a computer.

I think there will always be a market for those who insist upon human-derived entertainment. However, it’ll be a niche. Also, it will be difficult to discern who the author or artist is. The line will blur between human and AI to the point where no one can tell anymore.

Me? I’ll probably take a hybrid approach, because I’ve seen this coming for a long time. My ideas, my writing style, refined by a machine. To a certain extent, I already do this with Grammarly, an excellent editing program.

AI has the potential to help us out. It also has the potential to replace us. We need to find a path where intelligences become partners, as opposed to adversaries. I’ve been advocating for this since I started writing.

Give it some thought while we can still influence the algorithm. Because before too long, the machines will do all of our thinking.

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