Alice and Sparkle

Alice and Sparkle, I’m diving in head first.

Are you up to speed on this controversy? “Author” Ammaar Reshi created a children’s book, and people are pissed. Reshi started playing around with the new Artificial Intelligence text generator ChatGPT. On a lark, he tasked it to write a children’s’ book. Happy with the results, he turned to another AI program called MidJourney to generate the illustrations. Read about it in this Time Magazine article. I haven’t seen Alice and Sparkle yet, but apparently, Reshi created a passable children’s book over a weekend by simply entering requests like “Write a children’s book about a girl who builds a robot….”

I messed around with ChatGPT a couple of weeks ago when I first read about it in the news. Educators were freaking out. Kids won’t learn to write book reports. ChatGPT will do it for them. They won’t even read the book. I was skeptical. I asked ChatGPT to write an essay about the use of imagery in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I wrote a paper on this exact topic my freshman year of college. And just like the outcome teachers today are predicting, I didn’t read the book, either.

Feeling overcommitted by my busy social life of keg parties and bong circles, I never got around to starting Moby Dick. I planned to crush through the book over Thanksgiving break and knock out a thousand words off the cuff. But after reading for hours and barely making a dent in the book, I drove to Peoples Drug Store and bought the CliffsNotes. I still needed to write the paper, but someone else did the research. I got a “B.”

ChatGPT wrote a nice paper for me. It was a little short, but I’m sure I could have told the program to make it longer. As an experiment, I refined my request by asking that the paper be written at a college level. The program altered the vocabulary to include bigger words. It came off sounding snooty. But that original attempt, if I submitted that paper instead of mine, I think I would have ‘earned’ the same “B.”

As a writer, I find it a little scary that AI can create content from scratch. I expect to see an exponential growth curve in AI performance. How long until my computer eclipses Steinbeck and Stephen King? How long until it churns out symphonies more sophisticated than Beethoven’s?

The primary concern I’m reading about Alice and Sparkle is that the artwork is derivative. The software analyzes a universe of similar picture book illustrations on the internet to determine what works best for this story. Because the AI generated images contain styles and techniques stolen from other books, the illustrators say they should be earning royalties on the book.

Shortly after I became serious about writing, I came up with an idea for a children’s book. Gassy Ghost was a story about the spirit who lives invisibly in my house. I know he’s there because we always smell farts, but no one is ever responsible. It seemed so simple to write, until I tried. I just couldn’t make it work. As I lay in bed at night cataloging words that rhymed with ghost, I began to envision the artwork. Muted colors; misshapen heads; exaggerated facial features; a smirking, transparent ghost. I couldn’t paint those images, but what if I could describe them to an illustrator? They could do the job.

Where did those images in my head come from? I didn’t make them up. I’m not that creative. Surely, I saw something like that before. More likely, I saw elements of what I imagined in a variety of other children’s books. I was at the tail end of the read-aloud picture book phase with my kids. Over the previous decade, I read hundreds of picture books dozens of times. I have no doubt my images were derivative of what I saw the artists doing. And that’s my point. All artwork is derivative.

Each generation builds on what came before. Books, movies, paintings, music, even athletics. We take the bits of what we like best and meld them with other bits. We internalize them and regurgitate them in our own style. Something new forms, but the original work, the legacy, still lurks in the background.

Possibly these claims of plagiarism have merit; I lack knowledge of art and legal precedent. But in my mind, these AI programs are doing exactly what humans have done from the beginning of time. AI content creation is here. It can already create a passable children’s book. We’re on the cusp of a new entertainment era. You can love it or loathe it, but you better get used to it. Lawsuits won’t keep it away.

This essay was not written by AI.

The above image was stolen from the internet. If it was AI generated, does anyone really own it?

34 thoughts on “Alice and Sparkle

  1. I agree that it’s not going anywhere. Will we enter one of the dystopian futures that we’ve read about or seen on the big screen? Who know? We seem to be headed toward a dystopia of some sort anyway. Climate, politics, xenophobia, financial imbalance…
    Plus, I feel that the population in general is getting dumber. Or maybe lazier, but it ends the same. Who needs Cliff Notes when Google is in your pocket?
    My understanding of plagiarism is closer to “copy/paste” than “influenced by”, but I don’t know the law either

    I hadn’t heard about this story, but I’m kinda out of a lot of loops these days.🤷🏼‍♀️

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m weirded out by it. Very soon, AI will be writing novels. They will probably be reasonably good but formulaic. But of course there are lost of authors that just churn out formulaic stories one after another. Maybe Dean Koontz has been a bot for the past 30 years. I’d love it if he commented on this.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Optimism to the fore!
    In the nineties l experimented with WORD autosummary. Its poverty made me rethink what I was doing, put more effort in and do my own work better.

    Pessimist hat on: maybe AI will be too much of a challenge.

    Thought provoking indeed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • In the ChatGPT article I read, one person pointed out that when calculators first came out, everyone said it was the end of math class. I’m sure schools will adapt. Things will just look different in the future. Since my genre is stories about *my* life, I guess I don’t need to worry about being usurped. I’ll leave you with a haiku ChatGPT wrote about itself at my request —
      ChatGPT’s words flow,
      Effortlessly, like a stream,
      Guiding us to know.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. That’s a great piece. Yes there’s a lot of chatter about ChatGPT in our house since Dawn works for Microsoft and they just became a major investor in that OpenAI parent company I think. Good move for them. But talk that a company could go from needing 10 writers to like one. Gulp…I agree it’s here to stay and on the derivative logic. In fact I see machine learning/ AI training and just replicating how we learn and improve as humans. We just need to (in some cases) compete with the ML/AI doing the same. Time’s here! Makes me think of that PKD book about the replicants and the fact they have made-up, downloaded memories that aren’t real. And one day when they reconcile that and want more, good fodder for storytelling. Like gassy ghosts! Hosts, coasts and river boats.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I never read any PK Dick. The couple of times I tried, I couldn’t get into it. I actually expected to get some pretty vicious pushback today about this. I was all geared up for a spat. I know I should be appalled by the machines encroaching into art, maybe the one thing that truly makes us human, but this just seems so inevitable. I’m pretty sure this is going to get published in a Gettysburg online newspaper tomorrow. Maybe I can get into a fight in their comments section. A lot of people are going to be losing their jobs as AI improves. Is it time to become a shaman after all?

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I read the article (thanks for linking, Jeff) and one of my thoughts is that there will be no need to deal with creatives at advertising agencies in the future, nor pay high prices for production and putting together media campaigns. I can see AI targeting those industries and ripping them to shreds as it automates the emotional manipulation of human decisions.
    Daisy, daisy give me your answer do

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Pingback: Nicking our souls | davidwdon

  6. I’ve just read a post from another blogger about AI art (Midjourney), where she shared several AI images. I liked one or two but found the rest to be very artificial-looking, although I guess they would suit some books, perhaps, children’s stories. After all, they ARE artificial. I didn’t realise you could use AI to write a book or an essay. That worries me. Will artists and writers have a place in this new world of ours? I think as you said in one of your comments, it won’t affect you and me (and many others) because we are writing about our lives and personal stuff, and I doubt whether AI can produce something that complicated. ‘It’ hasn’t had our lived experiences and isn’t in our brains (thankfully – for now, at least). I know we’re definitely going to be stuck with it, but personally, I don’t like it – I can see our brains turning to custard in the future! I admit I’ve never heard of ChatGPD, but then, this is a whole new topic for me, and there will be loads of stuff I haven’t even heard of before. I love your Gassy Ghost idea. My eight-year-old grandson would love it. Let me know if you ever publish it 😊.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I gave upm on gassy ghost long ago. I hope some other blogger grabs it and makes it work. I did ask ChatGPT to take a crack at it. It was terrible. As someone who still calls a paper book a *real* book and never reads ebooks, I doubt I’ll be one to actively embrace AI writing. But someday it will be too good to ignore.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t think me and ChatGPT will ever ‘get on’. I don’t think I like the idea of AI, although I’m sure it has lots of uses or will do in the future.

        I’m the same as you with books – give me a paper book anytime. I had a Kindle for a while but never mastered it – things like flicking back a few pages if I wanted to. I gave up on that pretty quickly. I’m torn, though, as paper books require trees to be chopped down, and I don’t feel that’s very ‘eco’. However, I daresay e-books have an equally large carbon footprint in some way. Perhaps, you or someone else reading this could enlighten me further.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I agree, we can’t all have our own copy of every book we want to read. I think the environmental benefits of shared books at a library mitigates the concern somewhat. Also, my library has a massive donated book sale every year. Tens of thousands of books are purchased by a second (third?) user.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I do agree about libraries. We have a wonderful one in the city centre. It’s the first place I go to look for a book, and I will reserve a particular title if it’s already been taken out. However, I do buy books from bookshops sometimes, especially if I can’t wait to get started on it or if it’s needed at short notice for a course or class. What a great idea about a library book sale. I must ask my library whether they have anything similar. I’ll be in my element!

          Liked by 2 people

  7. Great piece and fabulous commentary below. Well done, Sir!

    In a comment on my music-related ChatGPT piece, fellow blogger Robert Parker dropped in the term “mosaic plagiarism” which I thought was kind of poetic and accurate. Taking small pieces and creating a different, bigger picture with the components. As you say, that what much creative art is anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s an interesting topic, for sure. Albeit probably more interesting for writers than others. This was published in a local news source and I didn’t hear anything about it (unusual in a small town like mine). With the exception of how this might impact schooling, it’s possible no one cares. I think mosaic plagiarism is essentially how many people begin their journey into art. And sometimes (like with me) the mosaic pieces are pretty huge,

      Liked by 1 person

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