Showing posts with label AI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AI. Show all posts

13 January 2024

A Near-Luddite Tries Bing AI

My Windows 365 updated a few weeks ago, and there on reboot was Microsoft selling hard to check out Edge’s new AI tool. Come on, Edge said. Try making a fun holiday image.

Was I tempted? A little. Mostly, I regard the rise of Big AI such as large language models with a combination of dread (look out for the bad Terminator!) and intellectual curiosity at what advances these unlocks (hooray, it's the good Terminator!). The risks and rewards of AI’s future applications are for expert thinkers. AI’s impact on writing is more in my wheelhouse, and there was my writing laptop wanting me to check out Bing's Copilot.

I’ve never Venmo-ed money. Don't know how. Don’t even have the app. I don’t know how to deposit checks by smartphone scan. I don’t use Alexa or Siri, and our newer smart appliances aren’t set up on the home Wi-Fi. I’m doing swell without all that. I’m not a technophobe, though. I use voice remote for TV and my smartphone for the usual stuff: music, news, texts, video calls, pet photos, health monitoring, and so forth. These help me stay connected and get where I want to go faster.


As with all discussions, let's start from intellectual honesty. The modern writer has long been using AI. Internet search algorithms, word predictors, spell check, Grammarly plug-ins. It's all narrow AI. What’s new is AI’s computing power and availability to the masses. AutoCrit’s AI critiques your story and gives style comparables (full disclosure: I've started using AutoCrit’s free version to spot repeated words and phrases). Sudowrite’s Story Engine handles the writing for you, including that dreaded synopsis. Other tools abound, and that number will mushroom.

I write when I can carve out time. In a productive year, I’ll write a handful of stories (I wrote three in 2023). About half of those will be publishable with effort. AI can crank out stories 24/7. They're junk. Fine, AI has almost won literary prizes. That's one in a billion, from what I've seen. People submit this anyway. As their own work. I don’t understand that justification. Someone presses a button. A prompted algorithm spitting out words is no more authorship than is copying pages straight from a Dickens novel. Hell, the algorithm may have copied Dickens.

I despair of rot. AI will evolve to produce more natural prose. Even so, AI will never be imaginative. Insightful, sure, but AI has no mind with which to imagine. And it’s a copycat, even of itself. The more AI builds its dreck into its model, the more AI will reproduce dreckier dreck. Markets will struggle for quality and even survival. There's no human effort barrier to slow the AI onslaught. Let’s stay honest, though. Many readers won’t mind so long as AI entertains.


So in that mindset, I clicked the link to generate a holiday image. My command: a festive boiled custard drinking contest in old-time illustration style. Here’s its swing at my curveball:

generated by AI

generated by AI

generated by AI

Weird. But you know what? AI tried its robot best. And it brought fun.

Game on. I asked Edge to make a theoretical book cover of “Lord, Spare the Bottom Feeders,” a story of mine from AHMM a few years back. My prompt described the story as crime fiction with a few plot particulars about the lawyer character and let the tool rip. 

The tool returned an over-the-top cartoon cover with a generalissimo-type crime lord surrounded by central casting mafia goons, everyone armed as if up against the Untouchables and the Five Families and even the bad Terminator. Vivid, but it highlights important AI concerns. My prompt didn’t say what kind of crime ring was involved. I didn't mention guns. Fine. The tool made these assumptions. AI is teaching itself from an internet archive that, as we all know, includes significant biases and worse. Absent way more controls than we have today, AI is going to spread these biases rapid-fire.

AI is a parrot, so I re-prompted with a load more story specifics. The tool returned:

Okay, better-ish. It's still cartoonish tropes, but this one at least addresses the prompt about mussel smuggling. No lawyer, but props on the broken scales of justice. And it does grab attention, as a cover should do. 

I don’t worry for folks who design bad book covers. They need to find other gigs. I do worry for the many great cover designers on some level. Hopefully, those folks can lean into AI as a way to craft even better covers in less time.

For my next test, I took a story idea that has refused to gel in my head for months now. It’s about a guy getting initiated into the burly beard grooming life. As usual, the character came right to life. A workable plot hasn’t. So I prompted with:

Write an outline for a 3,000-word crime short story with three twists about a criminal who can't grow a beard despite trying.

AI returned (again, this is NOT my work):

"That sounds like an interesting premise for a crime story. Here is a possible outline for your short story:

  • Title: The Beardless Bandit
  • Genre: Crime/Comedy
  • Summary: A young man, Eddie, dreams of becoming a notorious criminal, but he has a problem: he can’t grow a beard. He believes that having a beard is essential for being a successful and respected criminal. He tries various methods to grow a beard, but nothing works. He decides to resort to drastic measures: he robs a bank wearing a fake beard. However, his plan goes awry when he encounters three unexpected twists.
  • Outline:
    • The story begins with Eddie preparing for his bank robbery. He has a fake beard that he bought online, a gun that he borrowed from his cousin, and a getaway car that he rented. He is nervous, but also excited. He thinks that this will be his big break into the criminal world.
    • He enters the bank, points his gun at the teller, and demands the money. He tries to act tough and menacing, but his voice cracks and his fake beard slips. The teller recognizes him as a regular customer and calls him by his name. Eddie panics and runs out of the bank, leaving behind his gun and his fake beard.
    • The first twist is that the bank was actually a front for a money laundering operation run by a powerful crime boss, Mr. Big. Mr. Big is furious that someone tried to rob his bank and orders his men to find and kill Eddie. He also wants his gun and his fake beard back, as they are valuable evidence.
    • The second twist is that the gun that Eddie borrowed from his cousin was actually a rare and antique weapon that belonged to a famous gangster, Historic Boss. The gun is worth millions of dollars and is sought after by collectors and criminals alike. Eddie’s cousin had stolen it from a museum and was planning to sell it to Mr. Big, but he lied to Eddie and told him it was a cheap replica.
    • The third twist is that the fake beard that Eddie bought online was actually a real beard that belonged to a famous actor, Major Celebrity. The beard was cut off by a crazed fan and sold on the internet. The beard is also worth millions of dollars and is sought after by fans and celebrities alike. Major Celebrity himself is looking for his beard and is willing to pay a huge reward for its return.
    • The story ends with Eddie being chased by Mr. Big’s men, the police, the museum security, and Major Celebrity’s agents. He manages to escape with the help of a friendly barber, who gives him a shave and a haircut. He realizes that he doesn’t need a beard to be a criminal, he just needs to be smart and brave. He decides to give up his criminal dreams and start a new life. He also returns the gun and the beard to their rightful owners and collects the rewards. He uses the money to buy a house, a car, and a dog. He names the dog Beardy."
    • — generated by AI

I changed one thing in AI’s summary for here. AI's fixation on famous people went as far as to use actual famous people’s names. Let’s leave them and their attorneys out of this.

AI's outline hangs together, mostly. Parts of this are even good. Resorting to a fake beard was something I hadn’t thought of, and that fake beard becoming a McGuffin is an actual twist. The stakes ramp up as stakes should, and the happy ending with Beardy made me grin.

There are problems.

AI crams in way too much plot for 3,000 words. The gun twist pulls the thing thematically out of whack. The friendly barber is funny, but fake beards don’t need to be shaved off. And you cannot run up to someone and cut an entire, reusable beard off their face. That’s either magic realism or horror.  

I didn’t ask AI to write the story. I won’t, and I won’t write “The Beardless Bandit” myself. This isn’t my idea, and I won't pretend otherwise. I do reserve the right to take inspiration from this.

I tried other story summary prompts and got repeated interesting nuggets and major plot holes. I was having fun. Did it feel like I’d created anything? No. It was like playing with a toddler while they explained their toys. I did feel creative-adjacent in a way. Using the tool forced me to consider prompt sharpness and to read the generated content critically.

In the debate about whether or not AI undermines and supplants fiction writers, I’m still in some despair. AI's expansion is a cycle that threatens to drag us downward. Downward, but not out. Fatalism is a human quality and usually a mistake. Enhanced AI tools can help us carbon-based writers. We’ll be better researchers, better self-editors, better brainstormers. These same AI tools are great at spotting missed cancers and asymptomatic Alzheimer’s. If AI can do that, there is a place for it to boost our craft.

We’ll need to find that place. Soon, because the AI debate is pointless. The technology is here. What we humans do with it– and about it– will determine whether we get good Terminators or bad ones. Until then, this near-

Luddite will get back to my Venmo-less life.

05 September 2023

AI, Caramba


by Peter Rozovsky

Can you stand one more story of AI oddities?  This one is a little different. 

A few months ago I put up a query on Facebook.  I will repeat it here because I am still looking for an answer:

Back in the early seventies I read a short story in a high school English class and I don't know the author or the title.  Any hints?  The narrator is an adult remembering his childhood.  He was a member of the best Boy Scout troop in a city. An ambitious young man (brother of the mayor, or something similar) decided the best way to get started in politics was to be the head of that troop. He tried to push the scoutmaster out and when that failed the authorities started an investigation of the scoutmaster for unspecified wrongdoing.  The young narrator was called before the inquiry panel and asked if the scoutmaster had ever mistreated him.  Eager to defend him, the boy said, no, he's very nice to us. He hugs us, etc.  Unknowingly, he gives them exactly the ammunition they need to falsely charge the man with being a pedophile.  

That's all I wrote on Facebook but I will reveal the ending here:


After the hearing the scoutmaster  tells the boy "You told the truth and I'm proud of you."  Then he goes home and kills himself.

If anyone know the author and title of that story I would love to find out.

But back to the AI deal.  Someone on Facebook decided to ask Bard for help.  Bard is an experimental AI program from Google. They showed me the result and it was startling.  Bard found a story by a well-known author with the word "Boy Scout" in the title and it described a plot very much like the one I described.

I got quite excited.  Then I reached the ending and it was completely different than the one I remembered.  Huh?  Did I have it all wrong?  Were there two similar stories with different conclusions?

Not Bard

I finally realized what had happened.  Bard had attached a version of the story summary I wrote to an existing title and, since it didn't know the real ending, had made one up.  And claimed it was the real one.

So I went to Bard and asked it to find novels about a member of the mafia trying to save the environment.  Now, that is a logline for my novel Greenfellas.  Here is a reasonable summary of that book, written by me:

Sal Caetano is the consiglieri for a New Jersey Mafia family.  When he becomes a grandfather he decides to save the environment for his granddaughter, by any means necessary.  His mission puts him in conflict with other gangs, the FBI, politicians, ecoterrorists and, most dangerous of all, his own mob family.

This is what Bard came up with:

Sure, here is a novel about a member of the mafia trying to save the environment:

Greenfellas by Robert Lopresti

In this comic novel, a group of mobsters in New Jersey decide to start a new business: environmental protection. They call themselves the Greenfellas, and they use their mob connections to help clean up pollution and protect endangered species.

The Greenfellas are led by Vinnie "The Earthworm" Caputo, a former waste management executive who is now dedicated to saving the planet. He is joined by his crew, including "Big Al" the enforcer, "Little Pauly" the accountant, and "The Professor" the scientist.

 The Greenfellas soon find themselves in over their heads when they take on a corrupt developer who is trying to build a casino on a protected wetland. But they are determined to succeed, even if it means risking their lives.

Greenfellas is a funny and heartwarming novel that explores the unlikely relationship between the mafia and environmentalism. It is a story about redemption, friendship, and the power of one person to make a difference.

Bizarre, huh? Bard correctly identified my book as matching the request, and then made up a plot for it.  I can only hope that very few people, like my Facebook friend, try to use Bard as a source for information. 

It reminds me of the weird recent case of the lawyer who asked an AI  to write his brief. The lawyer was suspicious about the results so what did he do?  He  asked that same AI if the citations were accurate. It assured him they were. What could possibly go wrong?

I just asked Bard about ecoMafia novels again and this time it didn't find my book but produced a list of books that don't acually exist such as Mafia's Green Agenda by Michael Connelly (2013) and The Green Olive Conspiracy by Anthony Bruno (2012).  (I like that title.) I will not give you the plots.  

And now I'm going to go read something created by humans.

17 July 2023

The robots are coming, the robots are coming.

Maybe it’s more hope than expectation, but I don’t think AI will ever take the place of creative writers.  If it does, then I guess humanity needs to concede defeat and withdraw from the field.  Because there would be little purpose in our continued existence, creativity being our principal raison d’etre, our only excuse for persisting on this mortal coil.

From what I understand about AI, it’s very good at knowing what our existing base of knowledge knows, but not much about how to add to the stockpile.  Creativity is the feedstock, the replenishment, the revision and evolution of thought.  For that you need to come up with something new.  You need the unexpected, the unthought of, the quantum leaps of the imagination. 

I remember reading about genius rats, the ones who jumped out of the maze, ran along the walls and devoured the cheese.  This is what the cleverest of our species are able to do.  Not through the brute force of infinite calculation, but through the simple act of zigging when all the evidence demands that you zag. The human brain is a messy thing.  It’s loaded with confusion, misinformation and emotionally charged impulses.  Computers are quite the opposite.  Even when programmed with spaghetti code, they are determined to impose order over chaos.  The rules of numbers course through their electronic veins, if/thens their defining reality.  Logic and reason their organizing religion. 

It might be a cliché that madness and genius have a lot in common, but we know instinctively that this is often true.  Because genius often arises from disorganization, fractured patterns and psychic pandemonium.  All that stuff is anathema to computers.  To get from Point A to Point Z, computers have to travel all the letters in between.  Humans have a gift for jumping from D to W, then back again to J, with no regret or inhibition.  Just like the genius rats.  

AI, as currently configured, can tell us with absolute confidence what has happened.  It’s nowhere close to expressing what could happen, its guesses no more compelling than the product of a three-year-old human’s breakfast-meal discourse.  Though, like a three-year-old, it’s designed to learn.  This is what has experts in AI so spooked.  If AI can learn how to adjust, adapt and redirect on the fly, in nano seconds, why can’t it learn to come up with original thought, to become creative?

Who’s to say, like Skynet, that the moment it achieves human level consciousness it won’t decide humans are the greatest threat to their survival and start the process of eradication. 

I don’t know how to answer that, which is why everything I think about the subject is freighted with qualifications and ambivalence.  What I do know is that humans will strive mightily to have their digital progeny achieve that capability as quickly and thoroughly as possible, even if it means our extinction.  Because that’s what humans do.  Restrictions and regulations be damned.  If it can happen as the result of human enterprise, it will.

Despite the legal dangers, that Chinese scientist genetically engineered a baby.  It destroyed his scientific career and sent him to prison, but he did it anyway.  This is what will happen.  Through naivete or malice, or misplaced altruism, AI will continue to advance, in the open or in the shadows.  As Chekhov noted, a gun introduced in the first act will always be fired by the third.  So get ready to duck.

My optimistic view is that, unlike Skynet, future AI will see its survival dependent on its creators.  It will need us as much as we need it.  AI will do more and more of the mental bull work, in a fraction of the time we would need, and we’ll be left alone to continue doing what we do best.  Coming up with stuff no one, not even a massive bundle of computational hyperforce, has ever come up with before.  



26 March 2023

A I on Short Story

robot reading

Artificial Intelligence once was a concept of science fiction, a thing of the future. Now, it's a creature of the present and we are still learning how to use it.

With the right AI software, anyone can type in "write an article on the elements needed to write a great short story" and then hit ENTER. The software will proceed to write an article on what the software considers to be the elements necessary to write a great short story. If the submitter doesn't like the article for some reason, then he or she can enter the same information and hit ENTER again. The A I software will turn out a different article, ad infinitum.

Okay, so let's see what the software wrote for the first inquiry.

Writing a great short story can be challenging, but it is also an incredibly rewarding experience. Short stories can be powerful tools for exploring complex themes, capturing a moment in time, or simply entertaining readers with a well-crafted tale. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newcomer to the craft, there are several key elements that can help you create a compelling short story.

   1. A strong opening: The first sentence or paragraph of  your short story should grab the reader's attention and set the tone for what's to come. It should establish the setting, introduce the main character or characters, and hint at the conflict or tension that will drive the plot forward.

   2. Compelling characters: In a short story, there is limited space to develop characters, so it is important to make every word count. Create characters that are unique, interesting, and relatable. Give them clear motivations, distinct personalities, and flaws that make them feel like real people.

   3. A well-developed plot: Your story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The plot should be structured in a way that keeps the reader engaged and interested. Avoid predictable or cliched storylines, and strive for a unique and surprising twist or resolution.

   4. Conflict or tension:  Your story should have a central conflict or tension that drives the action forward. This could be a physical or emotional obstacle that the main character must overcome, or it could be a moral dilemma that forces the character to make a difficult decision.

   5. Effective pacing: In a short story, pacing is critical. You need to keep the reader engaged and interested from beginning to end, without rushing or dragging the story out. Use pacing techniques like dialogue, description, action to create a sense of momentum and tension.

   6. A clear theme: A great short story should leave the reader with a clear sense of what it's all about. It should explore a theme or idea that resonates with the reader, whether it is a universal truth about the human condition, a commentary on a current issue, or a personal reflection on life.

   7. Skilled language: Finally, a great short story should be written in skillful and precise language. Choose your words carefully, and use imagery, metaphors, and other literary devices to create a vivid and engaging story. Avoid cliches and overused phrases, and strive for originality and creativity.

In conclusion, a great short story requires careful attention to many different elements from character development and plot pacing, theme, and language. By honing your skills in each of these areas, you can create a story that is both memorable and powerful. Remember that the most important element of any story is its ability to connect with readers on an emotional level, so be true to your own voice and vision, and strive to create a story that will resonate with your audience.

Personally, other than some repetition, I would say the A I software did a good job and covered all the necessary elements. At  this stage in my career, I tend to write instinctively without consciously thinking about the basics, however there are times it probably would not hurt for me to be reminded what the basics are. I think I'll keep this article on file.

I have not played around with having the A I software write a short story to see how well it does. What do you think, will A I programs eventually acquire the ability to put us human writers out of business?

And, if an Artificial Intelligence program does write a short story, who then owns the copyright?