Columns > Published on June 9th, 2023

ChatGPT Is A Menace

Images via Cottonbro Studio & Pixabay

I have two writing lives: by day I’m a mild-mannered content writer. By night I hug my Master’s In Creative Writing as I weep while staring at the blurry card a literary agent gave me in 2010. In-between doing those things I work on books I hardly ever finish.

Being a content writer is boring and can drastically impact a writer’s voice. This is not a career for someone who wants to be known for their original work, and that’s something I wrestle with while I’m shoveling my time and talent into the steaming maw of capitalism, seeing my artist friends caught between its teeth as it spits money back at me. Was that sentence melodramatic? Something ChatGPT could never achieve. Even so, that didn’t stop me from losing my job in favor of the company utilizing artificial intelligence, ChatGPT in particular, for cheaper content writing.

Before you set up a GoFundMe, let me clarify that I’m still employed. My role was eliminated and I was moved to a different department. I’m still writing, just focusing on projects that can’t risk the use of AI for security reasons. For weeks before this decision was made, the excitement surrounding the executive suite at the idea of utilizing ChatGPT had me on edge. During company-wide staff meetings, sales reps and data analysts extolled the unbridled joy and hilarity of asking ChatGPT to rewrite Star Trek as if it took place in the Pirates of The Caribbean universe. To all major corporate executives and people who aren’t going to lose their jobs to AI any time soon (in theory), playing with conversational AI is just a fun thing to do — like getting your 18-year-old cousin drunk or teaching your grandma’s parrot to stay “Fuck the Steelers” to piss off Uncle Ken at Thanksgiving. Watching my colleagues huddle over their screens trying to get artificial intelligence to write the most insane thing possible reminded me of when my sister got a Furby in 1999 and we crowded around it, trying to see if the rumors were true that you could teach it to swear. To people who aren’t at risk, it’s just a toy.

To people who aren’t at risk, it’s just a toy. To writers, to me, [it feels] like a death knell.

To writers, to me, it felt and still feels like a death knell. One of my coworkers asked ChatGPT to write a story about a robot for his son. When he shared it with the team for fun, so many people jumped into the fray with comments like, “Now just use AI to illustrate it and find a publisher, lol.” He loved the idea and asked me for advice because “you know writing.” 

I wanted to throw up. 

I had been telling myself these thoughts weren’t out in the ether, people weren’t paying attention to conversational AI like that. When everything stopped during the pandemic, we turned to stories. We binge-watched movies and TV series, watched documentaries we’d never have watched otherwise, and read books because we finally had the time. We’re a narrative species, we will always turn to stories to feel something. To feel seen, heard, to feel real, otherworldly, to not feel alone in an ever-crumbling world that has us doing nothing but chasing our next paycheck. We turn to stories to be reminded we exist for something more than just capitalism. Multiple psychological studies have been done on why storytelling is hardwired in homo-sapiens — from cave paintings to oral histories, plays, books, movies, TV, and the sad little failure that was Quibi, to tell stories is to participate in our own evolution.

Listening to a bunch of sales bros gleefully discuss getting a publisher for AI-generated children’s books and finally finding their “passive income stream,” I felt like curling into a ball and howling with full-on snot and tears. That conversation made me realize one very heartbreaking thing: people no longer care about the source of their entertainment, which means it’s fine by them if their bedtime stories come from a machine.  Everything else in life practically does. In a world where writers are already fighting for scraps and randos are given book deals based on their social media following, from the WGA strike to the Harpercollins Union strike, I don’t know how any writer can feel warm or positive towards ChatGPT and content production AIs.  If our audiences no longer care about where their stories come from, the path of least resistance for publishers is to heavily utilize artificial intelligence because a robot doesn’t need a salary.

I’ve made it a point to not be anti-technology as a writer because you can opt not to use tools as they gain and wane in popularity. I know I have a deep-seated hatred for Scrivener (I’m sorry but I’m not spending more time learning a software than I am writing) and Grammarly gives relatively shitty corrective advice, but those two things don’t threaten my future as an author. In 2008, a professor of mine lamented that being an author at the dawn of ebooks was like being a buggy whip maker at the dawn of the Model T. He spoke about the impact it would have on book sales, independent bookstores, and content piracy. I thought he was being a melodramatic boomer whining about technology, a full-blown Old Man Yelling At Clouds, but I will now sit here and eat my words. He was right. 

An Author’s Guild survey revealed that 70% of authors believe that publishers will begin using AI to write books partially or in full and eliminate the human element entirely. Because why pay a talented yet emotionally combative idiot with an anxiety disorder (it me) when you don’t have to pay anyone at all? A recent Forbes article even stated, “I am ecstatic about what this (ChatGPT-3) means for publishing…This truly could be the beginning of AI writing great books... Publishing companies with access to this type of technology might be on the cutting edge of the AI revolution.” 

Read: I can’t wait to not have to pay writers. 

Artificial Intelligence has been quietly writing a lot of the content we see online for years, from recipe blogs to ad content and marketing campaigns. Students are using it to author papers to the point universities and educators are creating their own AI to catch plagiarism. Sales bros want to create children's books not because of their love for story but to chase the mythical bro beast known as Passive Income. These ideas are already simmering under the surface. I’m a writer who has begun losing work because of ChatGPT.

 I don’t like being alarmist but, guys.

 I think this is bad.

About the author

Megan won a sci-fi short story contest when she was 15 and got real smug about it. It’s been 20 years and she’s still smug about it. A native Upstate New Yorker, Megan is also a professional nomad and has lived in and worked in many different states on both coasts. She is adamantly against having an address she can remember for more than two years. She currently lives in Boise, but we’ll see about that. Her collection of essays, This Book Brought To You By My Student Loans is out with Clash Books. You can find her fiction in Luna Station Quarterly and Hello Horror, and her comedy nonfiction in Ravishly, Daily Drunk Mag, and Spoonie Magazine.

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