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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Davies

Bot vs Poet

A woman reading a book

Are you disturbed when you read a story or poem that's not half bad, and later discover it was written by a machine?

I was there... and after digging into my ill-feeling, I reached an understanding that was briefly reassuring.

First to say, poets usually don't make enough money from their poetry to pay for much more than a loaf of bread. Successful, established authors often tell me that I should not expect to make a living from writing, no matter how well received is my work (red rag to a bull). The idea that generative AI might put artists 'out of business' is not the biggest question for me. Serious artists are not often 'in business' to start with, at least not with respect to their art.

Serious fiction and poetry of the kind I like to read takes me to a deeper place, slows me down, returns me to the intimacy of the present, or sheds a light on the true state of things, what it means to be human, to be alive today, beneath the rapidly shifting shallows of modern life. I could say the same of course for all the creative arts. So here is where my wandering mind took me on AI... Typically, when we read a poem, or go to see some live music, or view an artist's exhibition, we are not consuming an automated pattern-seeking new synthesis of a mass of text (or audio/images), we are connecting with another human being - the artist, the author, the musicians. The creator may in future (or already) use generative AI as part of their work perhaps, but they are the user, they are making the choices, and each choice reflects who they are and their life experience. But the extra level is an act that is often subconscious. When we read or view a story, we are often projecting our own stories, flaws, tragedies or joys into the experience. We see ourselves, and our memories, dreams, fears, aspirations, in the art of another. It is the very human-ness of the artist that captures both our desire to connect and to project. So as much as we might be fascinated or horrified by the rapid advances of generative AI in the context of creativity, the individual human artist and their life experience is missing from machine art, and will likely mean, for the foreseeable future, that any serious human-generated art form, at least at the advanced levels, is something we still (kind of) value. This notion at least calms me down. I can go and make a cup of tea and get back to work. I do realise I may fall in love with a book one day and discover later it was written entirely by machine. Then dear readers, I will need your help. And given how impenetrable deep fakery would have become, we may all need help... Ah, yes, how reassuring Katherine. Stepping into the future, one real day at a time, I say. I'll be in the cave marked 100% human. Well, unless they offer me a life-saving synthetic organ transplant...

Frightening must-read update from the insiders - any semblance of a reassurance over advanced AI swiftly deleted!:

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