Ted died last week. Ted was a friend of mine, although he was much older than I was.
He seemed ever present when I first started teaching. He was the archetypal gentleman who wouldn’t have looked out of place in ‘all creatures great and small’, he wore tweed jackets, and smoked a pipe, had a great sense of humour and the students loved him.
Somewhere around 1980 when I was still quite green and by far the youngest member of staff, I sat opposite Ted having a cup of tea and we had a chat about technology. This topic in schools was not popular at all. Computers, monitors, keyboards, and noisy dot matrix printers were passing fads with little use besides putting people into space and there was a Luddite-like resistance to them. However, we agreed it was inevitable that one day they would be part of the learning process, and within weeks (having agreed on some funding) we started to test and trial some of the earliest computers in different departments and it turned out that we were the first to do so in Lancashire.
I tell you this because I expect almost all of you to be younger than me, and it probably seems a little bit of a tall tale, but not at all. Many people were up in arms about the very idea and how this imposition would ruin the time-honoured art of educating people of all ages. You can only imagine what happened when the Internet came along.
And if you were to ask me, I have said from day one that everyone did a great job of getting the Internet to work, but no one ever considered making it safe, not even for a minute. That’s the kind of work I did for many years much later.
So, it is no wonder that we are having the same furore over the advent of A.I.
It isn’t going to go away.
What relevance does it have for writers?
Well, for a moment let us go back to schools and colleges. I know that today, teachers are horrified about AI, having spent years devising methods of detecting plagiarism in young people’s work. Now we have a tool that can instantly write their homework for them.
Some of you probably aren’t aware that, because self-publishing is so relatively straightforward, some people (under false names) take advantage of it, even going to the lengths of publishing books where the pages are blank to make a quick kill. Others copy or develop work that is someone else’s. I think you would all agree, there’s not much point in pinching somebody else’s ideas because the whole process is quite personal. It is very much about what you want to say and why you want to say it.
Is AI of any use to you?
Lee introduced me to, Microsoft Edge ‘Bing’, and it has a feature that will create images for you. Although I do paint, I constantly struggle to find appropriate pictures to use on Instagram. Many of course are of Tudor buildings and characters but Lee tried searching for ‘show me a picture of York in the 1540s.’ It did a really good job. I don’t think there’s any reason why this can’t be used for book covers as Microsoft are happy for you to utilise the pictures for commercial reasons.
But no matter how tedious you find this blog as you read it, I hope you agree that it has been written by a person because I have referenced people I know as well as my experiences. A.I. will never be able to do that but what it can do very well is to help you with your research. Having tried it out, I realise that many discussions, for instance, political and religious issues, are very emotive. If I’m honest, it’s something that gets me down sometimes, the art of debate is now seemingly lost, no longer can people talk about what they know, understand, or feel, without being attacked.
Try this with A.I. I thought it was brilliant. It will give you a balanced answer to your questions based on the wealth of information that it can access. A sort of Wikipedia on steroids. It even knows about my books and my career as a musician.
And yes, you are being watched and listened to!
Certainly, I don’t think anybody should be tempted to lift stories just because it can write any story for them (and does it reasonably well) although you could use it to provide you with ideas.
Thinking back to my experiences in the 80s and 90s, those who resisted the advancement of technology were wasting their time. AI is going to happen anyway. If you can embrace it, do so and use it to your advantage.
If you think of anything else, please let us know.
I have no doubt we will talk more about this in the forums and invite you to try it out for yourself.