A few days ago, The Authors Guild asked members for their opinions on the tsunami of artificial intelligence (AI), already beginning to flood the land.
I said it will mean the end of human authorship as a profession, and the end of literature as an art that reflects humanity, in all its evil and decency. How can a thing with no heart write from the heart?
My only expertise (I have none) is that five years ago I published a novel, Caliban Rising, about an AI program meant to transform life on Earth by ceding all decision-making to an algorithm way smarter than any human. Problem: the original programmer was a human, who had, let's say, serious moral flaws. Result: this self-teaching algorithm quickly developed a mind of its own, and it didn't give a bit or a byte about humans.
I wrote the novel to pit a human armed only with his wits, but with a heart, against an AI program with awesome brilliance, but no heart at all.
I hope I wasn't prescient, but here we are. Programs like chatgpt can spit out stories and essays seemingly produced by human writers. Already several magazines have stopped accepting stories, because so many submissions are now written by computers. Students see a bonanza when it comes to term papers. How long before, in the doctor's waiting room, the robot nurse emerges and tells you: "The algorithm will see you now."
People already are turning to AI for boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends. Elon Musk, who presumably has expertise, says it's absolutely conceivable that AI could take control and reach a point where it makes decisions. Interviews with tech-company leaders sometimes feel creepy, as if they're terrified by AI's ramifications, but can't stop themselves, because the fundamental operating principle of any corporation is to make a profit.
Can democracy survive when every word we hear, every photo or video we see, may be generated by a computer, totally unreal?
I'm a worrier. Maybe AI will be our disintegrating civilization's salvation, diagnosing more accurately than med-school graduates, creating more airtight wills than law-school graduates, figuring fixes for climate change in time (and forcing us to make those fixes, perhaps). Curing cancer.
I only know it's painful, thinking that soon our books and movies and poems will be composed by an interplay of ones and zeroes, and the human mind, with all its complexity, all its experience of life, its guilt and joy and awe, will be entirely out of the loop.