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Ethics of AI for Authors Part 1: Costs & Benefits

By November 15, 2023November 26th, 2023Editing Tips

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a dominating force in our lives, and that’s true even if you’re an author who relies on your creativity and smarts to develop beloved stories, worlds, and characters. But what about the ethics of using AI combined with your own work?

Here’s some insight, opinion, and information about ways to use AI in an ethical way in your creation process. My aim is to reduce the harm AI creates; support efficiencies in publishing; and put the focus on human creativity as much as possible as we explore the role of this emerging technology.

Why Worry about AI in Book Publishing?

Although AI provides opportunities for advancement in every industry, its use in book publishing is worrisome for several reasons.

First, most people see emerging tech like AI and think, “It’s not hurting anyone if I use this to write a book and publish it with my byline. It makes writing so much easier.” Yet falling into this trap shows a lack of understanding of how AI works.

In order for generative AI specifically to work, it needs information. With writing, this could mean putting the works of known authors into the software so that it “creates” something considered new and original.

However, if you choose to go this route, not only are you harming other authors, but you’re doing yourself a disservice by avoiding the creative output of an original story written by YOU, a thinking, feeling individual whose experiences could be shared with others.

Rather than putting in the work, you’re making the machines work for you. It’s not original content from you, but an amalgamation of words from an algorithm. Dystopia much?

Let’s go broader in this discussion and think about the industry as a whole. Although it’s an emerging technology, AI in book publishing can lead to the types of efficiencies we see that lead to job loss. Indeed, we’re already seeing AI cost people jobs and it’s only getting started.

Editors, formatters, artists, and others are all affected when we rely too heavily on technology to do the work of people. This is especially the case with AI because AI is not always accurate. Even Siri from Apple, often used to ask questions, is only accurate 68% of the time, according to statistics from Authority Hacker. Cutting out that human element can lead to misinformation, inaccuracies and, to be frank, bad writing, especially in terms of relying on software to fill the gaps of a copyeditor.

To be sure, AI will “learn” to be better, but there is no guarantee the information received from it is accurate every time. Even simple tools like Grammarly are known to be wrong when used for revising content, so who’s to say AI would be any better?

Finally, at the time of this writing, the environmental implications of AI must be stated. It may improve over time, but using software like ChatGPT costs resources which may already be running scarce. For instance, a study estimates ChatGPT uses 500 milliliters of water (close to 16 ounces) for every five to fifty prompts or questions used.

We must consider these tradeoffs if we are to keep using AI as a means to an end. We as a society, and as creatives, need to think about our legacy and how we intend to make this a sustainable solution within the scope of our work.

Why Focus on Ethics in AI?

An argument for ethical practices surrounding AI usage stems from the idea that, at its core, using tools with generative AI specifically built into them harms others. We have to ask ourselves if it’s worth it to harm other artists, to take their works and use them to generate “something new,” for the sake of also wanting to create.

How can we call ourselves creative if all we’re doing is putting prompts into a machine to do the work we could be doing if we just tried?

Regardless of how you feel about the ethics of AI, it’s unquestionable that it has to be part of the conversation if we are to continue valuing art in society. Without this thought process, we cheapen the impact, importance, and integral ways art shapes our lives.

And it’s not just traditionally what we think about as “art” that’s impacted! We have seen AI play a role in how movies, TV shows, podcasts, and more are shaped when we rely on technology to do the work of people. The writer’s and actor’s strikes this year have shown how these industries have seen the negative impact, and if we as a society want a future where our fellow humans can sustain a living wage alongside this technology, we cannot ignore the ethics of AI.

I believe there is a role that AI can play in publishing so long as we choose to address the problems now, along with come up with solutions and a compromise that helps us to use this technology fairly, with less impact to creative individuals and a greater way to improve some of the tasks we may see as repetitive, boring, or hard to achieve when we are trying to think

What Questions Do You Have about AI and the Writing Process?

Artificial intelligence is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean our conversation about how it plays into writing has to end. Connect with me if you have any questions about what was shared here today or want to see any tools you’ve found added in a future article. I’d love to hear from you!

Watch this space for Part 2 of this series! Subscribe to the Editor Exclusive so you don’t miss any updates.