Is ChatGPT going to kill creative writing?
Are AI Chatbots here to kill what's left of the creative writing profession?
Despite being an AI researcher, I am sad to say that I did not spend enough time playing around with Large Language Models (LLMs) prior to the release of ChatGPT.
When news of ChatGPT started to spread like wildfire in early December of 2022, like everyone else, I started to use the tool out of curiosity. Needless to say, I was blown away by the technology.
At first, my reaction was that of ‘insane optimism’. Within the first few days of using ChatGPT, I could already see the multitudes of ways in which I could deploy it in my own life to create automations and setup processes that would boost my productivity to new heights.
But then, just like any self-respecting researcher would, I started to read what the experts were having to say about LLMs, AI chatbots and how they were going to impact the world in a fundamental way.
What followed was roughly 4 months of sleepless nights spent researching the literature, understanding how LLMs function, and their potential impact on jobs, culture and society.
By this time, my reaction to this technology had morphed into that of ‘insane pessimism’. To my own defence, there are more than enough ‘valid reasons’ to feel afraid of a technology like ChatGPT. Try spending five minutes researching the works of Eliezer Yudkowsky and I assure you that would be a sufficient dose to induce nightmares (all due deference to Eliezer).
In the meantime, I kept using ChatGPT for various purposes. It helped me in writing code, setting up a schedule for my day, and writing some auto-responders for emails. It also helped me a lot in pulling up topics for research and summarising some of the existing scholarly works. I also started to use ChatGPT to aid me in learning Norwegian.
I know this doesn’t even cover half of the things that you can do with this technology and the list is increasing exponentially everyday. But all of this is to say that ChatGPT has become an integral part of my life. It is, for all intents and purposes, an assistant with super powers!
But do I see it as the ‘final assault‘ on creative writing? The answer (for now) is a resounding NO!
When it comes to writing anything, ChatGPT is flawless (if you forget the hallucination problem). It gets the grammar right. It uses the proper vocabulary. It adds all the research required for the topic. That makes sense. Because AI Chatbots that use LLMs are designed to use probabilistic models to deliver you with the most ‘accurate answer‘ to your question. But creative writing is not just about giving the most ‘accurate answer‘. It is an extremely nuanced process that involves not just using the right grammar and vocabulary, but also using your own voice.
Great writing takes a lot more than getting the words right. It requires a human touch that is very much palpable by other human readers. We read the works of authors and poets not because they give you the most accurate response to your questions, but because they take you on a unique journey with their words. And that requires getting the words right, wrong, breaking rules, trying different formats, and even making up your own vocabulary. Great writers create a personal connection with their readers using their words.
For the past 4 months, I have used AI in a myriad of writing tasks, mostly for experimental purposes. ChatGPT, Bing Chat, and Bard are great at writing tasks that do not require a human touch, such as legal writing, curating research, business proposals, emails, writing a research summary etc., but when it comes to creative writing, while the results are promising, they are definitely not a replacement for human voice.
I have done quite a few experiments with AI in creative writing tasks, such as poetry, personalised essays, memoirs, etc., and the results, while impressive, lack human voice. Most of the responses from ChatGPT in this regard are ‘mind-blowingly accurate’ and yet ‘mind-numbingly dull‘. They are borderline boring. Even the ‘get creative‘ feature in Bing chat fails to be creative enough in its responses to be able to replace the human voice.
Some say that it really comes down to prompt-engineering. The better your prompt, the better the response. That may be true to some level. But it isn’t a solution.
Even at mimicking other writers, the difference in the content is palpable. ChatGPT can write like J.K. Rowling, but it is not a replacement for J.K. Rowling (yet).
And no, I don’t think the solution to this is stacking larger language models and throwing more computing power at it. Because this problem is much deeper. It has to do with an underlying philosophical question, “Can you outsource creativity?” Because what you are doing when prompting ChatGPT to write you a poem is ‘outsourcing‘ the creative agency to a different entity. So while the idea is your own, the creative agency is alien. It can mimic you to the extent of even fooling your greatest fans who have read every word you have ever written. But it is still not a replacement for your own unique creative energy. And that energy (the human touch) shows up in your writing naturally. ChatGPT is definitely more linguistically intelligent than us. There is no doubt about that. But linguistic intelligence is not a substitute for the human voice.
So in conclusion, NO, I do not think that creative writing has seen its final days yet. We still need humans to engage in creative writing tasks and add a human voice to the work. I don’t see that going out of demand any time soon.
I know that this is a controversial subject with many diverse and interesting views. So in all humility, I will finish with one of my favourite quotes.
"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." - Thomas Kuhn