This article is NOT written by a robot

The world is agog with ChatGPT—the AI machine that writes for you based on the commands you give it—and the revolution it is going to cause in journalism and the arts. Essay and article writers will go extinct, say the pundits; graphic designers will commit hara-kiri and visual artists would have to take up house painting to earn a living.

I can see the publisher of an independent newspaper rubbing his fingers in glee (Dirk, don’t go getting ideas here!) and saying, “No more will I have to chase after my contributing journos to send in their pieces on time. I will simply issue commands into the machine on any topic I choose, and out will spew beautifully crafted pieces requiring no editorial interference, or proof reading, or payment. My newspaper can double (or triple) in size and acquire double (or triple) the number of advertisers. Finally, my pension plan will not look like a mirage.”

But I suspect this bloated new-format newspaper will start to look the same from cover to cover. Every piece will have a bland sameness, unless the editor interferes and colours it with human fallibility. Where will be the caustic humour, the biting sarcasm, the ironic wit, the heart-wrenching pathos, the politically incorrect observations that make for engaged, entertaining, and enlightening reading? Can a robot do all of this? Is the robot sentient? We know it is far superior to the human in accessing a myriad of data sources at lightning speed and assembling the facts for us. But it can do so only based on what already exists. Can it create new? That is the unanswered question.

However, we artists are not supposed to be luddites, and are expected to adapt to the times, girding our loins and leaping into the fray each time new disruptions occur to decimate our incomes. Therefore, I signed up on an AI application platform that converts text prompts into artwork. The graphic embedded in this article was produced by this application when I typed in the prompt, “A robot is writing.” Not bad, eh? So, I phoned my art designer who has provided me material for many of my book covers in the past and told him that he was henceforth out of a job, but promised that I would stand him a round of golf and a drink on the 19th hole when I too lost mine as a creative writer.

I suspect the human-machine interface that I covered in my last article has just taken a giant leap forward, on the machine side, because this ChatGPT development, along with many others it will spawn, will not die out but will permeate the mainstream to alter jobs, incomes, and identities. Where will it come to rest is another open question. Already, academic institutions are trying to figure out whether written exams are now obsolete, Google is building defensive walls for its advertising revenues that are under threat, and I’m getting dozens of e-mails from AI-powered outfits who will write, not one but 500, reviews about my last book (for a fee, of course), all in a single day!

I’m not even going to think about social media at this stage. Could you imagine the deluge of robotic flotsam that will now flood these bursting fake news, jokes and selfie channels? Who will read, who will trust, and where will we store all this crap? “Drowned in the feed” will be replaced by “Tsunamied in the digital cesspit.”

And those under threat will strike back. “Created by a Human” will be a new premium label on products, just like “Hand-crafted” or “No Sugar Added” provided cachet, once upon a time. The title of this article could become the by-line for my future essays, short stories, and novels, just to prove that I wrote them.

And while all the hoopla was going on, I decided to take the bull by the horns, or the robot by the digits, and write a novel about a robot, before it is written for me by a robot. The ethical issues therein are mammoth. For instance, what happens when robots develop consciousness (as is touted to happen in the near future if AI keeps progressing along its exponential path)? Would they expect to be paid for their labour and not to work 24 x 7/365, and to be granted paid time off and sick days (for when they are infected with computer viruses)? Would they acquire real estate and require investment planning, and who will they leave their wealth to when their batteries run out? Would they require a Bill of Rights and demand to be recognized as a distinct society, equal among humans like all minorities demand today? Or will their superior, burgeoning intelligence outstrip ours within a generation, and they turn rogue to enslave humans and put us to work 24 x7/365 while they enjoy life on the golf course and at the 19th hole? A creation usually embodies the morality of its creator, and humans have a lot of experience in turning rogue. A new Age of Slavery could be imminent.

A brave new world indeed, one never imagined by even Mary Shelley when she wrote Frankenstein. Ironically, in my new novel, the fictional robot is a female, and I have named her Mary….

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