By Michael McKown
People come to me for ghostwriting services. At Ghostwriters Central, Inc., our menu includes book manuscript writing, screenwriting services, TV script writing, theatrical scripts, speeches, technical writing, and much more. I have many skilled writers on staff. Each one of them is an artist, as much as any painter, sculptor or music composer. Writers paint with words and sentences. The art of storytelling means taking the viewer, reader or listener for a journey of imagination.
Imagination. People have it. Robots fake it. What does an LLM (Large Language Model) do? It scrapes content across the entire Internet. The chatbot will visit a website, analyze the writing, literally copy it and store it away. OpenAI is getting sued over it, too. It’s not about the words it collects, it’s about original phraseology. There exists a real possibility that OpenAI’s ChatGPT will use a somebody’s copyrighted sentences in, say, a report it authors. Without attribution. Without payment. The LLM serves up info it scrapes in reorganized form, in response to a query. Without imagination.
What imagination? Here’s an example: Wikipedia says a drum machine is a musical device that generates percussion, drum beats and patterns, meaning it must be programmed. A band or solo musician can use one to assist with rock, pop and dance music. It saves on having to pay a drummer.
When drum machines showed up in the 1980s, it wasn’t long before you’d spot bumper stickers that read: “Drum machines have no soul.” Drum machines have no soul, certainly, and also no imagination. I can name some drummers with unique, exciting styles that no drum machine would ever have generated on its own, even if could learn. And certainly nobody in a concert audience will scream and shout kudos to an electronic box that dishes out a drum solo.
Chatbots do not have human experience or knowledge, or an understanding of human humor. They cannot craft a story that will enthrall a human audience. They don’t have the discipline to create a magnificent manuscript or screenplay. Lance Ulanoff is the US editor-in-chief for TechRadar.com. On February 25, 2023, Lance published an article titled: “ChatGPT showed me just how far it is from writing a blockbuster.” And so, using the bot’s prompt field, he told it to write a script featuring Captains Kirk and Picard (of Star Trek fame, for the uninformed) delivering dilithium crystals to Earth of 2023, to solve an energy crisis.
Ulanoff left decisions about plot, dialog, casting and screen direction to the bot. It immediately spat out a barebones draft with no second or third act. ChatGPT seemed to be in a race to get to the finish line without bothering with the details or formatting required to make an interesting film. In conclusion, Ulanoff said: “ChatGPT seemed to forget it was writing a movie script and just delivered paragraphs of dialog-free text describing the action. It felt rushed, as if ChatGPT was bored with this exercise and just wanted it to be done.” Oh, and what it did write was derived from every Trekkie website and article in the world.
A chatbot may be able to pass a mock bar exam, and that’s impressive. But when was the last time you read an exciting or intriguing article on case law? Teachers and professors are devising ways to identify assignments written by a chatbot. Rumor has it that Google is modifying it algorithms to detect bot-written content, which may impact search results. As of the end of June, 2023, some 100 million potential customers of professional writing services have been experimenting with ChatGPT to lighten their workload or perhaps in hopes of getting excellent writing for free. Ghostwriters are experiencing a decline in business as a result, but I suspect it won’t be long before prospective clients discover the bot-generated articles or stories or screenplays really su…uhhh…are deficient.
Recent reports say that agents, publishers and producers are being inundated with AI-written crap. It’s my guess those folks will need to hire additional staff to read – and reject – unimaginative and uninteresting chatbot-authored material. In a recent report, a publisher of children’s books has been swamped with identical or nearly identical AI-written stories, all accompanied by different author names, email addresses and phone numbers. That publisher has halted production until they figure out how to handle the bot-written deluge.
What’s the alternative when an insolent or disinterested chatbot won’t write something spectacular for you? You quit trying to get it to cooperate and you call a writer. After all, did not humans invent the disruptor of writing services? When you collaborate with a professional writer, you can brainstorm. You can laugh, cry, whine, be inspired, be frustrated, and the writer will sympathize and do their best to help you reach your writing goals. When you get attitude from a chunk of software, you do what astronaut Dave Bowman did to HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. You unplug the damned thing.