AI means ‘Artificial Intelligence’

AI once meant Artificial Insemination, but times change. How did I discover AI (in the new sense)? In April I joined a free webinar AI for Writers which took place over five days for several hours a day. Each session lasted a half hour and consisted of an interview with one of the selected contributors. They were all writers in a broad sense: a few were novelists, but many were bloggers, tweeters, journalists and businessmen. All spoke of how they came to experience AI, how they used it and what AI tools they used. They offered advice on getting the best out of it and some spoke of the ethical and legal issues it presents. Many had begun with misgivings but none had any regrets. The interviewer was at pains to dispel much of the misinformation on the subject.

What were the issues around AI and how were they addressed?

  1. AI will take jobs. Every advance in technology has taken some and created others. A lot of repetitive jobs or elements in jobs will go. A quote I liked was “You won’t lose your job and be replaced by AI but you might be replaced by someone who can use AI”.
  2. AI will destroy creativity. That’s the one thing AI hasn’t got – yet! It will enable creative people to get on with what they’re good at and what they want to do, while taking away the administrative routine stuff.
  3. Using AI is cheating. No more so than employing an assistant or an editor.
  4. AI can come up with wrong answers (sometimes very wrong!). This is known as hallucinating. If you ask certain AI tools a question and they don’t know the answer they may guess. In any case, all some tools do is search the internet where fake news abounds. Others have their own databases. One contributor advised sticking to topics you know something about so you can spot obvious errors. Another advised instructing your AI software to say “I don’t know” where appropriate. A third suggested asking it to state its sources or to use only specified trusted sources.
  5. AI is overrated. Its output is not very good. The contributors were satisfied with the results they got but said they rarely used AI’s first draft, as they wouldn’t use that of a human assistant. They would send it back with criticism as often as it took to get a satisfactory piece of work. Evan then, most didn’t use AI’s output without revising it to make it their own. Some regarded it as a partner for brainstorming.
  6. AI can be and has been misused. What hasn’t been? TV? Print? An axe? A car?

What did I get out of the webinar?

  1. I am clear as to the dangers and weaknesses of AI as well as the advantages.
  2. I know a lot of the pitfalls and how to avoid them to get the best results.
  3. I have learnt to treat AI as a person rather than a machine. To hold conversations with it.
  4. I know about several different tools and what they do best.

How am I using this knowledge?

  1. I am subscribing to the paid version of Claude and have been discussing my latest draft novel with him. He is a beta reader, development editor, copy editor and proofreader. He is much quicker and a lot cheaper than the human varieties. Like those humans, he is not my master, but he does get me thinking about points I might have (or had) overlooked.
  2. Claude has given me some drafts for blog posts, adverts, blurbs and synopses, and has suggested ideas for short stories linked to the book.
  3. I have also subscribed to the paid version of Eleven Labs, which can convert text to speech can dub a voice onto a video and can translate to a selection of languages. I have produced a three and a half minute video of myself for my website and had it dubbed in French and Chinese IN MY OWN VOICE. The result is not perfect, but it is acceptable.
  4. I am in the process of turning one of my published novels, The Key to a Murder, into an audiobook using a clone of my own voice, which sounds convincing. At present, there are problems I had not foreseen. A human narrator would probably manage these issues better than the software but it’s a learning experience for me and I think I can see how to resolve these to a reasonable extent by re-editing the text and starting again.
    1. It’s the same voice all the time and can’t differentiate between speakers or do different accents.
    2. It isn’t obvious that there’s a change of speaker where the text doesn’t say “John said” and then “Dave said” every time.
    3. Some puns work better in print than aloud.
  5. I am thinking of using another AI tool, probably Canva, to produce covers for my books. At least I won’t have to worry about copyright if I do it that way.

Finally

AI is here and getting better at a fast rate. It is also spreading fast. There are possible ways of going wrong with it, but there’s a more certain way of going wrong without it. I’m glad I discovered it when I did.

The cover of The Key to a Murder, the novel I am about to turn into an audiobook with help from AI

the novel I am about to turn into an audiobook with help from AI