The Future is Now

Edith writing north of Boston, where the tulips are blooming despite dismal weather.

I am so frantically packing for Malice I forgot today was my day on the Wickeds (thanks for the heads up, Jessie). But I do have something to say.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties (yes, I am that old) not far from Disneyland. My schoolteacher father got some kind of deeply discounted family yearly pass, and we went a couple of times a year. I brought a friend for my birthday once. My mom, so she could spot us, put all us kids (four) and JoAnn in red sweaters.

I remember when the Monorail went in. There was no longer any rapid transit in southern California except slow buses by then, and that fast sleek train was dreamy.

Attribution to Editor ASC at English Wikipedia

One of the most fascinating sections was Tomorrowland. There was a revolving house, and amazing electrical appliances, and something like a television-phone, so you could see the person you were talking to. Plus rockets, of course. And robots. All very futuristic and hard to imagine.

Attribution to Chris 73 at Wikimedia Commons

Now, of course, physical robots help find mines and do other dangerous or highly repetitive tasks. We’ve had robotic assists in factories for decades. But I want to talk about a different kind of “robot” – artificial intelligence.

Computers interpreting what you say (hi there, Siri and Alexa; hey, Google) have been around for a while. Online searches come from AI. Those emails from the yellow giant about if you liked BOILED OVER by Barbara Ross you might like RUM AND CHOKE by Sherry Harris do too. And so on.

If you’ve been hiding under a rock lately (I don’t blame you, by the way, if that’s the case), you might be missing the current furor over ChatGPT and AI that now can write passable text after being fed many digital chunks of written material. High school and college teachers are already having to deal with this, asking students to handwrite their first drafts, using the AI assist as a teaching moment, and more.

Authors and screenwriters are starting to get very nervous about the possibilities. If someone feeds my 11 published Country Store Mysteries into the application, would it write a passable book #13? (I’ve already turned in book #12, DEEP FRIED DEATH, so there, ChapGPT.) Can it write a decent – that is, funny – comedy sketch for a sitcom? I’ve read tales of passages it has written that include wrong or stupid stuff, but that might improve over time.

In view of all these changes, I drafted the following paragraph to include in MURDER IN THE RUSTY ANCHOR, the manuscript I’m working on and the sixth Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery.

Note to readers: the ideas and words in this novel were generated entirely by the author without contribution from an AI application. Hard to believe I have to say that, but it’s the truth, and you should know where your fiction comes from.

I hope my editor will let it stand. Or maybe Kensington is already drafting a similar paragraph to go on the copyright page. I just thought it was time to take a stand, draw that proverbial line in the sand.

Readers: what say you? Would you read an AI-generated cozy mystery? How would you know? What are your thoughts on the topic? Writers, feel free to use my paragraph!

56 Thoughts

  1. AI written books? No thank you. How are they supposed to convey the very human feelings and emotions that make books so good? Nope. I think I will pass.

    All of your books are amazing and perfectly written the way they are.

  2. Assuming we know ahead of time that a book has been written by AI, I would have zero interest in reading it. I want an actual person to be the one behind the creation of a story I’m reading.

    But what do you bet that at some point, a publisher will try generating an AI-written story, attribute it to some made up “author” and set it off in the marketplace as a trial balloon?

  3. This topic certainly has benefits and risks. Scary part – you may not know it is an open AI generated book. A recent writing symposium on the topic woke me up to the new reality. Yes, according to the program I viewed, authors need protections, in contracts, as the open AI groups are training their creations on the blood, sweat and tears of the writer, with no acknowledgment or compensation. Good for you, Edith, to include your Note to Readers in your next book.

  4. I find humans infinitely more interesting and creative than machines. In fact, the books I love are loved because of the humans who populate them and about whom I care. So, I prefer to read books conceived and created by humans. No AI for me!

  5. I have the same concerns, Edith and I hope Kensington is handling it appropriately. If not, I’ll include something similar to yours with my submissions.

  6. I think I’ll stick to warm bodied authors writing my favorite books!!! Besides, Siri does not always know the answer to everything, contrary to popular belief, so how is she going to write a good mystery story. Lol!

  7. I’m old school. It all makes me think of the saying “If it’s not broke – don’t fix it!” I will concede that maybe we need improvements or advancement in things medicine and technology, but you must draw the line somewhere. Other wise the sci-fi stories we read as a child about the human race being taken over my machines just might be over the horizon.

    Personally, I’ll stick with the great author’s I love, those they recommend and new author’s that need a help getting started doing it the “right” way. After all, from where I’m sitting it ain’t broke!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  8. When it was the best of times, and the worst of times, when all the world’s a stage, I wonder, wonder who, (🎶) who wrote the book of first Corinthians? Oh, Artificial Intelligence…wither thou go, I shall not want, for I seek the wisdom to know the difference between the light we can not see, and the heart of darkness. Imagine all the people, living for today, only to realize, that it was the winter of despair, and all the men and women merely players.

    Thus, I say to AI, and those who walk through it’s valley of the shadow, be careful who you trust…salt and sugar look the same.

  9. What’s troubling is they could be inputting our books without our permission as I write this. I also heard one of the big publishers — can’t remember who — did their first book deal with a person who used AI.

  10. I agree that the proliferation of AI is scary. As a teacher (retired now) I can see how this adds another layer to concerns about plagiarism. If a book written completely by AI was published, I might be interested in reading it as a novelty just to see if it was any good, but I don’t like the the idea of partially or fully AI books being published without being labeled as such.

  11. It would be interesting to see, but it won’t have the personality behind it. AI won’t tell stories in a blog about Martin or sign my book at event like the one I have from Joann Fluke or post pictures from Malice. I enjoy all that stuff as well as the books you live people write.

  12. My daughter teaches college freshman English and has been reviewing AI-generated papers in preparation. She says you absolutely can’t tell the difference. And because these papers are unique they can’t be identified by traditional plagiarism trackers. (And by traditional, I mean the ones that were initially developed and released in the early aughts.)

    I always say the reason to have a foundation in basic math is so you can look at something generated by a calculator or a computer and say, “that doesn’t look right.” And then go back and realize you’ve put in the wrong formula. Maybe the future skill is reviewing, refining and correcting AI-generated drafts. And figuring out the best way to ask for what you want in order to produce the best draft.

    I would certainly read an AI-generated book. In fact, I’d be interested to. When photography was introduced, portrait artists felt threatened. But now the two forms exist side-by-side. And many more people have images of their loved ones than ever could have before. When stoves were introduced in the home, people went nuts about the new technology and were convinced it could kill you and destroy the family. But many of us still have fireplaces and stoves and central heating in our homes.

    I expect, like computer-generated visual and cinematic arts, authors will find unique ways to use AI-generated text in their work that will surprise and delight us. You can’t keep human beings from doing art.

    1. Love that disclaimer, Edith! This reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, “Drum Machines Have No Soul.”

  13. Great disclaimer, Edith. Because I am currently self-publishing, I will borrow a version for my books.

    I would be curious to read an AI generated book or story. From the bits and pieces I’ve seen, it is not possible to distinguish from author written unless there are obvious goofs. I use ProWriting Aid as a self-edit assistant. It points out grammar goofs, misused words and a number of other potential areas of concern in writing. The newest version offers suggested rephrasing. I don’t make use of that feature, but I have toyed with it. I’ve found that the voice is far more formal than mine even though I use the program set to creative writing/mystery.

  14. I personally do not think AI will ever be able to successfully write a novel. At least not in our time. Some author I talked to recently said she’d done a test by feeding it her novels. The result was the AI said no way they books were related and no way she’d written them. It was so wrong it was almost comical.

    The most successful use of ChatGPT and other AI I’ve read about is corporate blogging, such as white papers. If you feed chunks of facts and data into the AI, it’ll spit out a passable first draft with citatations that can then be edited and smoothed out, saving a lot of time in both first draft writing and researching. But the inital result is not something a company would want to publish – it’s too raw. I’m actually okay with that kind of usage.

  15. As a member of the WGA, which is 99% certain to go on strike next week, concerns about AI are a critical aspect of our contract negotiations. I’ve warned authors that we underestimate the impact of AI at our own peril and frankly, I’ve felt dismissed by some. Well, I’ll give them this example. In 2007 as the insidious approach of streaming loomed, the WGA struck for better compensation from digital distribution of our material. We tried to head the issue off at the pass. But we could only foresee and control so much and now the short seasons and mini rooms and other negatives of producing streaming shows have up-ended writers’ careers in ways we couldn’t have predicted. Hence the new strike.

    I foresee the exact same situation for AI.

  16. Stories up until now have been told only by human beings. When I read a book, I am reading an author’s ideas, perspective, biases, and idiosyncracies. All those things and more make an author’s voice unique. It is why I like or dislike certain authors. I think an AI generated book might be able to duplicate a particular author’s voice but I have no interest in reading such material. I want to read favorite authors (like you Edith) precisely because I want to be entertained by your particular ideas and style.

    Technology is neutral. It can be used for good or evil. And sometimes it shouldn’t be used at all because the negative consequences outweigh the good it produces. Using AI to help with grammar is fine but I don’t think it should be used to write the actual content. One of the things that distinguish human beings is the use of written language. I don’t think we should share that trait with AI without deep concern. Once the genie is out of the bottle we won’t be able to put her back.

    I also question who has the authority to feed an author’s work into a program without their knowledge or permission. If copyright laws don’t currently protect authors, those laws need to be rewritten now to get ahead of the problem

  17. Thank you for sharing. I do not think that I would read it. I am not a fan of AI. God bless you.

  18. I just saw a 2022 movie on TV called “Moonfall” with Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson about AI taking over and killing the humans that made it. A few escaped and had to hide and it was searching for them. It is scary as you know what. I did not like AI before that and I like it even less after. When I taught 10th grade English, my students had to learn to write a research paper. I finally settled on all things War (any war) as a subject matter, but they really had to research that subject. The rest of the subjects mostly used could almost get a written paper off the internet or use someone’s from the year before. It was hard to know if they plagiarized. I would only let them use one internet source. The other sources had to be at least one book, a magazine/newspaper article (which could be found online), an encyclopedia, and an interview. I also made them write several rough drafts before typing the paper. Of course, everything had to be footnoted and include a bibliography. Lot of work for me in reading, editing, checking footnotes and sources, but it was worthwhile. The library at our school was amazing in helping get books out for them and show them where everything else was and they had a lot of BOOKS! NO AI for me.

      1. So far the things I’ve read written by AI have been pretty terrible. I’m not sure I want to read a whole book by AI. And why would I want to with so many known, good authors? It is disturbing that books could be pawned off as written by real authors. I think it will be a long time before AI will have a “soul.”

  19. The problem as I see it is that you can tell a painted portrait from a photograph, a cook stove from a fireplace, a racehorse from an automobile. But will we be able to tell when a book has been written by a real human writer? Worse, I’m now haunted by the question: will anyone in our future world care? I wasn’t worried until I read the interview of a young “author” who blandly commented that she was pleased to be able to leave the ‘boring stuff’ (such as description of setting or character) to her AI program so she could concentrate on just ‘telling the story’. Personally, I have avoided reading even those books labeled, for instance, “Robert Ludlum’s Whatever by Whoever”. I listen to certain musicians for the rhythm, the choice of keys or strings, the skill in a new arrangement. Written by anyone else (or any thing — MOOG music, anyone?) it might pass muster but it’s not what I want to spend my money on. In a book, it’s the choice of words, the narration, indeed the whole feel of the thing. Another writer might tell a decent story, even in the general vein of a well-known writer, but they can’t tell the story the way that writer would tell it. An “Edith Maxwell Quaker Midwife” novel might be a good story, but written by someone else, human or otherwise, it won’t give me what I love when I sink into a novel that Edith has written. I can’t help seeing myself as someone crying, “Go back! There’s quicksand here!” on the road to what many see as a rich goldstrike.

  20. While I completly understand the many concerns surrounding AI (its effect on the job market/the fairness to human creators/how will today’s children actually learn for themselves/), I think it can also be an invaluable tool when used correctly.

    After all, things like Spellcheck and Google are already AI-powered technologies. These are things, as authors, we use to help write better and faster (which therefore benefits readers as well.)

    Yes, there are can be many negatives to it. But like most technology, we, as moral humans, need to figure out how to use it for a positive purpose and for the greater good.

  21. What an interesting post. I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments and would have to say that I would much rather read a book written by a creative hard working human author versus AI. It is a scary thought that we might not be able to tell the difference one day so I absolutely love Edith’s note to reader idea and also think that AI generated books should be noted as such.

  22. Edith, I couldn’t find your contact page to contact you but I’m looking for a particular post you had recently, it was a giveaway and was about did you think you would make it on the wagon train and if so what would you be sure to take with you and what would you leave behind.
    Please reply and let me know because I can’t find the post either that says who the winner of that giveaway was either

Comments are closed.