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How AI is Changing Writing: Insights from the 2024 Nebula Conference

I am not a robot, please read: The Nebulas, Artificial Intelligence, and Silly Me.

Once I returned from the 2024 Nebula Conference, back at my author’s alcove, I mentally reviewed all the things I heard, learned, and discussed with my fellow authors. Despite the enormous breadth of topics, one thing crept into every single conversation at some point: AI.

Everyone seems concerned about it. Everyone is also tired to hear and read about it (like you here and now, maybe), but there was a consensus that, unless you reached 95 years of age, it WILL be relevant for you in your life, so we might as well tackle it.

An army of AI cores is advancing, as envisioned on the original book cover of Dark Cascade, a science fiction novel by Bert-Oliver Boehmer
"They're coming!"

The commercial hype is that AI writing stuff will be faster, better, and cheaper; the holy trinity of profit margins. We might be at two strikes already: It is certainly faster to have a large language model churn out a story. It is probably much cheaper than paying a human to do it—but is it better? Right now, it isn’t. AI-written stuff is a bit shite. The longer it is, the shiter it gets. It’s in the nature of these models. Eventually they run out of things to say that, with high probability, makes sense to say or write next, and then they make stuff up. Which, ironically, makes them sound very human. It’s like talking to someone who starts drinking tequila at the beginning of the conversation and then has another shot at the end of each paragraph. Then AI output comes off the rails, the rambling becomes incoherent and details entirely unrelated to the original topic or story creep in.

So, as a novelist, only writing long-form prose I’m safe, right? Right?

Not for long. Remember when chess computers could get beaten by anyone with decent skills? Then only seasoned club players could win against the machine and at the end of the 90s, the reigning world chess champion lost against IBM’s Deep Blue. I think the whole process might be even faster for AI writing books. We’re down to the last strike—quality. Writing, however, and the decision if it’s good or bad, is not like winning at chess, it’s subjective. This is why your favorite book of all time still shows one-star ratings posted by heathens who didn’t get it.

But what if AI ‘authors’ produce reasonably good stuff? What if the stories entertain, are fun to read? For cheap! Well, we’re f*&ked. Or are we? I just spent a long weekend with my peers, who, besides writing, spend the second biggest portion of their time with reader outreach. Sharing their biggest fear on a panel, and discuss how it motivated their writing. Telling stories from unique personal backgrounds and have moving, or sometimes hilarious, reasons for including details, themes or tropes in their books. They are human, and they’ll sign your book when you meet them.

Author Bert-Oliver Boehmer signing books at Nebula Conference 2024

Maybe our opportunity, or chance for survival, depending on how doomy gloomy you feel about the topic is to revert our mindset to what storytelling is at its core: The communication between people. Someone’s got a story to tell, and you have or make time to listen to it. There can be a campfire in the center, but it’s not required. Maybe we don’t like to lose this element, this key ingredient. Like we’re not calling home on a weekend to listen to a perfect artificial rendition of mom’s voice, we want to talk to the actual mom. My hope is that readers will stay around for our stuff, and even if they have only a few minutes to spare, indulge our outreach, blogs, social media posts and reels (yes, I learned the difference now), because we’re trying to make a point off-page besides our writing—we’re not a robot.

Hey, I am not get-off-my-lawn old, but believe me, blogging and social media are not exactly second nature for me. Never really took a picture of my meal and send it to strangers. My omelets look terrible and there is probably an AI cook who makes better ones, but I’ll get better at it. The omelets and the other things I mentioned. I’ll reach out to you some more, more personal, not spammy, not too often, as you got stuff to do, and I won’t keep you for too long. But a bit more. Between us non-robots.

Now go and select all boxes with traffic lights!


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