Different Is Good

Rogue Sunflower in FieldSome of us don’t particularly enjoy being noticed. We’d rather fit in. I just spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to find an outfit that would look acceptable for a business lunch in New York, and though I’m pleased with what I ordered, the process reminded me I don’t care to stand out for my clothes, either by looking too shoddy or too flashy. I don’t normally like standing out at all, in person. Fitting in is a gentle form of invisibility.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t get far with my writing career if my novels didn’t stand out. To get published, a novel has to knock the socks off layers of people: an agent, an editor, the publicity and marketing teams at a publishing house, librarians and booksellers. That’s before it even reaches readers who may or may not give the novel a chance based on hearsay or the right cover.

In short, a novel has to be different. It might take on a familiar story, but it has to be written in a way that’s new and unforgettable. Fortunately, each of us writes in a unique way. Even if we tried, we couldn’t duplicate exactly what someone else has done, let alone create something new that completely captures another artist’s vision. This is true, at least for humans.

AI, on the other hand, is trying.

The Authors Guild is suing OpenAI on behalf of writers, claiming copyright infringement. It argues that AI used our novels without our permission and without compensating us while creating a product that undermines our abilities to make a living. I have to say, it was disturbing to check the Books3 database published in The Atlantic and discover my own novels have been used to train AI. I was disturbed enough to join the Authors Guild.

I get that technology is advancing. I’m excited about new discoveries and tools for medicine and research. But a tool that can be used for good can also be corrupted. Just ask Tom Hanks who has seen his likeness repurposed for a dental ad without his consent. It is not enough to say the cat is out of the bag and we can’t do anything about it. We can. We’re still in charge.

2 Responses to Different Is Good

  • Kind o a compliment, in a way. But at the same time, deeply creepy.
    I saw 2001 at an impressionable age, so you can imagine. I won’t even use Siri, because I feel foolish talking to a damn machine!

    (P.S. How’s Fall along the Fenton?)

  • Dear Jim,
    Yes, our relationships with technology are bound to feel personal, and I can see why you’re reluctant to interact with Siri. I cherish my privacy as well. Thanks for weighing in!
    I haven’t visited the Fenton lately, but I imagine it’s beautiful this time of year.
    All best,

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