The New “New Creative Class” Isn’t Going to Be Human

I always worried that people like me, who write for a living, would become extinct simply because people would stop reading anything. But there’s this issue, too, now: competition from AI fiction-writing algorithms.

Long ago, after reading Vladimir Propp on the mathematical predictability of the structural characteristics of the folktale (and Stith Thompson on the recycling of folktale motifs), I realized that building a folktale generation engine would be fairly easy. Many of these now exist.

Will our bestselling authors, in the very near future, be AIs? Lord knows, fiction is highly formulaic–especially genre fiction like mysteries and romance and fantasy and spy novels. And the AIs can produce at breakneck speeds (they don’t have necks to break), creating in seconds a novel that would take me two years–one with just the right amount of formula and novelty, shaped by databases of info on reader interests, based upon vast explorations of design spaces of possible plot developments and character interactions and settings and conflicts and symbolism and archetypes of literary structures and blah blah blah.

You know. The main character has to be sympathetic, a young single Mom from the Midwest. Someone who lost something important–a child, a parent, her identity. And she has to discover a secret about her loss, as the result of some random but shocking/surprising event. And following that thread takes her down a rabbit hole in some exotic location or locations (India? Russia? a Greek island? NSA headquarters? Europa? Atlantis? a superconducting-super-collider? the faery realm? a cult compound?), and things turn out not to be what they seem because of a conspiracy (political? economic? involving mobsters? aliens? the intelligence services? a cabal of evil scientists? a ruthless psychopath? witches and the Devil?)

Formulas. One from column A, one from column B. Paint by number novelizing. With a little topical novelty thrown in for the benefit of the marketers.

Aie yie yie. We’re all going to be replaced.

Back in 1948, Orwell wrote in his book 1984 about machines that churn out reading material for proles, including cheap, pornographic novels. Well, he saw far, didn’t he? Then, in the 1980s, people like Tom Clancy pioneered hiring teams of writers to churn out “novels,” under his name, according to his formula.
This depresses me. A lot. And I am not prone to depression.

Time to go back to work on my short story about the poetry-writing machine.


“Maybe you’ve heard about the LUCA Colony?”

“No, what’s that?”

“It’s in Tibet. There are these monks there–PEOPLE who write novels and films and create pictures with oil paints.”

“You’re kidding. . . . Really? OMG. People? Writing stories? Why? That’s kinda pointless.”

“IK. Right?”

“And a colossal waste of time. Can you imagine how much time it would take a PERSON to write a novel? And what the quality would be like? And how the hell do these people support themselves?”

“Just goes to show you that there is nothing so crazy that people won’t be found, somewhere, who are doing it. As to how they support themselves, I can’t imagine. Perhaps they’ve figured out a way to live entirely off the Guaranteed Basic Income.”

“Have you ever heard about sand mandalas? Perhaps these ‘novels by people’ are like that. Exercises in transcience and meaninglessness. I mean, obviously, no one would ever read them.”


About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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