If you’ve seen the movie, The Wizard of Oz, you remember Dorothy’s iconic line, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
I recently experienced this phenomenon first-hand when an author client showed me how he used ChatGPT to write a new book in less than 12 hours – with the outline, editing, title, and cover design included. He used a machine to complete the manuscript in 90% less time than the standard process. How was the result? It was a decently-written nonfiction book filled with interesting advice, examples, and techniques – not that different from most books in the marketplace.
As my client showed me how he used artificial intelligence to generate a book, I thought to myself, “Mankind has just crossed a new threshold. From here on out, things will never be the same.”
Recently, I saw how A.I. could write an essay on any topic in the style of Earnest Hemingway or any other author. Machines can be trained to write content in the voice of anyone without readers noticing the difference. In fact, college professors are unable to tell when their students cheat and turn in reports written by a machine.
We’ve reached an uncomfortable place in publishing where technology is about to change everything…some for the good and some for the worse.
If a machine can write a book in the fraction of time that it takes a human, where do we go from here? Fortunately, I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom.
Right now, artificial intelligence is dependent upon human input. Machine algorithms aren’t sentient. A creative person has to tell it what to do. Thus, don’t worry, writers will still be writers.
But, as with any technological advance, some people will lose their jobs. Those jobs will be mostly mundane roles that are time-consuming. In contrast, new jobs will be created to manage the expanding technology that develops.
What are the possibilities with A.I. and writing books?
After some thinking and dreaming, here are my Top 10 predictions about the future of artificial intelligence in publishing. Let’s start with the most unexpected predictions first:
1. Novelists will create stories with multiple endings
A.I. has the ability to enable fiction authors to write and publish multiple endings for the same story. For example, you buy a novel and read it to the end. But, imagine reading the same story again, yet with a completely different conclusion. Then, you do it again as the author dreams up new twists and endings.
If A.I. enables authors to write books 90% faster, then the author is freed up to create alternate endings of the same book and release all versions at the same time. Or, keep creating new versions into the future. Writers could parlay the idea for one book into multiple revenue streams.
2. Estates of deceased authors will release new books
Did you know that A.I. can recreate the unique voice of any musician, dead or alive, and create new songs that people enjoy hearing? People have already been fooled by machine-created music that mimics famous singers. It’s almost like Elvis never died.
Under that same scenario, I wouldn’t be surprised if the estates of dead authors use A.I. to publish “new books” under the deceased author’s name. For example, what if you could read “new works” by Jane Austen, Tom Clancy, or Dr. Seuss that seem eerily similar to the real thing? If the public is satisfied with a reasonable facsimile of their favorite dead author, this type of “resurrection publishing” could explode.
3. Audiobooks can be narrated by whoever you choose
If you can copy someone’s famous style to write a book, that means A.I. can also use anyone’s voice to narrate an audiobook. Imagine listening to a novel read by your favorite actor or even a family member? Imagine choosing from a variety of “voices” to hear any audiobook you want. The technology to make this happen now exists.
4. Lazy authors will publish books that copy other authors
Since people can use A.I. to produce books that copy another author’s style, who will stop anyone from “writing” a book in the voice of that author? It’s likely that a wave of litigation will occur to challenge copyright violations along with lawsuits about using someone’s name, image, and likeness. For instance, Joe Blow will publish a book that reads strangely similar to a James Patterson novel and try to get away with it. If the courts are lenient and money can be made, you bet that Joe Blow will give it a shot.
5. Publishers will experiment with “A.I.-only” imprints
Publishing houses are notorious for running on thin profit margins with insufficient staff who are underpaid. The more books that publishers can churn out with less human expense, the more profit they can make. Thus, don’t be surprised if some publishers experiment with creating “A.I.-only” imprints where books are “written” by machines using a just few people to oversee the process. If readers don’t care or don’t notice the difference in quality between A.I. books versus human-authored books, then profiteering publishers will pursue the less costly option.
As you can see, artificial intelligence has the power to turn the publishing industry upside down. But, what about individual authors? If you’re a writer, how do you use A.I. to your advantage? This brings us to my next five predictions:
6. Self-publishing will continue to increase
Self-publishing has already lost its stigma and become a viable option for thousands of writers. With the advent of A.I., indie authors can create new books in half the time at half the cost. Compared to the old system, all of the writing, editing, graphic design, and descriptive text can be completed in a flash by a machine that never complains at a price that is nearly free. This means self-publishing will remain a more profitable option than traditional-publishing for many authors.
7. The author role will change from “writer” to “creator”
If A.I. algorithms can replace most of the writing and editing functions that are done by a human, that means the role of an author will evolve in the future. Machines will likely serve as really fast ghostwriters. Whereas, authors will serve as the creator of ideas and stories, rather than the executor of the manuscript. In the end, nothing will replace great writing. Authors who prefer to do all of the writing themselves can continue with that work. But, it will become a choice, rather than a necessity.
8. Readers won’t care if a human or a machine writes the book
Over the last few years, technology has caused the clothing industry to become dominated by a trend called “fast fashion.” Cheap clothes are made quickly and sold at cheap prices without a focus on long-lasting quality. If our culture has become content to buy cheap, fast clothing, don’t be surprised if readers tolerate the idea of buying cheap books written fast by machines. As long as the reading experience is pleasurable, who makes the book won’t matter. Thus, I predict that low cost, convenience, and speed will hasten a mass embrace of A.I. in publishing.
9. Lawsuits will have little effect controlling A.I.
It’s easy to see that advances in A.I. can threaten the value of intellectual property and copyright violation. The first round of lawsuits is already underway. But, legislators and lawmakers usually have trouble controlling the consequences of innovation. Just look at the recent inability for governments to regulate cryptocurrency.
If there is any way to limit the effects of A.I. on publishing, it will take rapid, aggressive legislation. But, I don’t see that happening. I predict a Wild West scenario where everyone will try to limit the damage as much as possible. The huge companies that own the A.I. algorithms, such as Google and Microsoft, will stay in control and fight to keep it that way.
10. A.I. books will hit bestseller lists and no one will know the difference
My last prediction may come as no surprise after reading the previous forecast. Don’t be shocked if you find out that a bestselling book wasn’t written by a human. Creating a bestseller will be one of the top goals of the A.I. community in order to justify their existence. Machine-written books are already making headlines, such as Death of an Author, which was created, but not written, by Stephen Marche. He developed the plotline, but used A.I. to write and edit the manuscript. Most journalists who reviewed the book couldn’t tell that a machine wrote it.
Is it the end of the world if A.I. books outsell human-written books? Not necessarily. Most people look to books for a pleasant escape or the answer to a problem. Notice how we’ve already allowed technology into our lives for that purpose.
We all use Google algorithms to search for information. We already use machine-guided GPS to follow directions. Heck, we’ve been using calculators to solve math problems for decades. Thus, consider the benefits that A.I. can bring to publishing:
- Faster speed to publish new books
- Lower production costs
- Easier way to generate new ideas
- Quicker ability to test consumer feedback
- Greater capacity to create revisions and ancillary products
When you examine the potential boost in productivity and profit, viewing A.I. as the apocalypse of publishing doesn’t make sense. Instead, it’s just another tool to be harnessed. Tools can be used for good or bad. We are about to see the good and bad enter the marketplace. The negative effect could cause these consequences:
- Flood of too many mediocre books
- Dehumanizing effect on society
- Decrease in author income due to increased competition
- Machines empower those with a lazy mentality
- Loss of jobs for copyeditors, ghostwriters, and book designers
There is always fallout when technology of this magnitude is unleashed upon the world. It will take years to identify the real implications of artificial intelligence.
Rest assured, though, A.I. will never replace great writing and storytelling. Those who create unique ideas and express them in powerful ways will be rewarded. Likewise, the need to pass on knowledge to the next generation via books will remain constant.
No matter how powerful machines might become at generating content, the strategy of publishing books and marketing to readers will always require something that an algorithm can never replicate…
…the human touch.
By the way, this article was written by a human with no intervention by artificial intelligence, except for the use of an online thesaurus and spell checker. 🙂