March 18th, 2023
A disturbing trend
In the last decades of my career as a psychologist a disturbing trend took hold in the profession. The venture of psychotherapy, which had traditionally recognized the importance of the relationship between therapist and client, was taking on a different fundamental nature. Psychologists were more and more required to follow established therapies dispensed in step-by-step protocols. Not only was this how quality was defined in the profession, but it narrowed the freedom of its professionals to respond uniquely to client needs.
What had been the hallmarks of the psychologist’s profession --- intuition, curiosity, empathy, creative problem-solving and compassion --- were thus diminished. In their place, the professional was to become a technician skillfully dispensing research supported protocols, defensible in court if the psychologist was ever sued.
In my first novel, written a scant five years ago, I wrote about therapy being provided by an avatar interacting using artificial intelligence (AI). Since then, AI has increasingly taken its place in our society. AI chat apps have come along for the lonely and ChatGPT writes college essays so students won’t have to develop their own critical thinking skills.
This concerns me as a human being. And as an author, too.
Because, of course, before long the AI algorithms will be writing our novels.
As the literary algorithms improve, and do so within a profit-driven consumer system, novels will be increasingly tailored to saleability. Because authors will no longer ponder the human condition to depict it with insight and wisdom, readers will no longer be challenged to do the same. Algorithms will learn what satisfies the most people most often, serving it up on sales tables and through social media for on-line ordering.
Murder mysteries will have the ideal number of suspects, the most aptly placed red herrings, the right number of plot twists, and the most benign of a final chapter denouement. Literary fiction will have the best mix of past and present, a satisfying number of fascinating secondary characters, and serve up thoughtful nihilism and despair with a faint glimmer of human hope. For the romance reader, the perfect number of adverse events will occur before a couple falls into satisfying love, over and over again. And for sci-fi buffs, there will only be the optional blend of human traits and weirdness for the aliens. For the dystopians, you ask … well, maybe we shouldn’t go there.
However, literary AI can only produce an anti-novel as it creates variations on fiction based on what has been proven to work the best. Novelty will give way to success.
This is chillingly close. An author friend showed me the AI generated graphic for his book cover. It was most excellent, or should I say, too excellent. I still can’t get the image out of my mind, an image created by a digital programme with just a handful or prompts from a human being. Probably the human being of this process will become disposable in the future.
The algorithm designed to keep me strolling on Facebook has figured out that I am interested in this developing trend for authors. Ad postings for learning opportunities to enable me to write the successful novel come frequently. Apparently, there are easy steps that I can follow to write a best seller, can do so in just ten days rather than the years I put in to writing my novels now. The algorithms are being worked out, first for humans of course, but subsequently they will be used in the AI programmes.
Ah-ha, what can this be but deja-vu all over again? What happened to psychotherapy can, probably will, also happen to fiction. But my fear is that the more we pursue what works best, the more we will reduce what is best.
Of course, literary critics will be tasked to spot the fakes. Investigative journalists will probe the identities of the supposed authors at book signings to figure out which ones are just actors sitting in for the digital algorithms that had produced the best seller. Bookstores will develop a special section for titles published before Artificial Intelligence. Over time, both that section and the one for classics will need less and less shelf space because buyers will only want to browse the front tables.
Decades ago, the black and white photography in Life magazine helped us learn to see our world in a different way. National Geographic did that too, in colour no less. Now with digitally enhanced photographs we just have nice pictures to look at, colours are highly saturated and distracting elements are photoshopped out of the frame. We look at the image for 10 seconds (or less) on social media, get a brief hit of wellbeing, and then move on. We are never challenged to think, or even to consider that a photographer thought about what could be captured on film, how best to do so, and what that photo would say about the world we live in.
How do we stop this happening in literature?
Perhaps you might want to get to know an author, like one who is a real human being. I’d be open to that, my contact email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You might find out that behind every Pre-AI book is a real human being, an interesting one at that. If you doubt I’m really real we can meet on zoom (complete with my warts and thinning hair). Perhaps we’ll both have to do a little computer-user graphical thingy to prove neither of us is an avatar.
But you can also cherish and celebrate the aspects of being human that AI can’t really satisfy, things like acting toward another human being with compassion (there is a hit of wellbeing that comes in doing that) by becoming a good observer and appreciator of the real world (the buds coming out in spring are really vibrant) and taking the time to scratch your chin and say a hmmm in response to a really interesting blog.
Blog archives. (with clickable links)
February 2023 - About being in the middle
January 2023 - Can we have a little heart here please?
December 2022 - A story about story
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.