10,000 hours. That’s how long, according to author Malcolm Gladwell, it takes to master a craft. Unless you’re an AI, in which case it’s apparently a matter of months, weeks or days.
When I read that ChatGPT is now such a proficient writer that he is already the author of hundreds of self-publishing books on Amazon, I went a little nuts. To be clear, the groundbreaking OpenAI chatbot does not publish these volumes on its own. People are collaborating with ChatGPT to develop themes, stories, and chapters for their books.
My immediate reaction was, “I’m lost.” But as the icy chill of this cold reality wore off, I thought of something else. Anyone can write and publish a book, and most of them won’t be very good.
Why would we assume that ChatGPT, which learns from a lot of text online, can write at, say, Stephen King’s level – or even at my level?
In addition to writing for tech publications, I’ve dabbled in fiction for over 30 years – mostly children’s books that I’ve written, illustrated and published on the Kindle self-publishing platform KDP.
What took me decades to accomplish, ChatGPT did in a matter of months.
I will not lie; I was a bit depressed. This flood of AI content is likely to overwhelm people’s performance on the same platform. It also destroys the notion of talent because in something you may need to write a book, get it published, and gain publicity. I expect ChatGPT’s book to be on The New York Times bestseller list by the end of the year.
Written by ChatGPT
What occurred to me as I sank into the realization that I might never make something good enough to sell my mother more than one copy was that I had made an assumption.
Who said ChatGPT typing is good?
In most of my interactions with the OpenAI platform, I found ChatGPT informative, intelligent, polite, fun, and sometimes out of place. But I never marveled at his artistry of words.
To test my theory, I decided to ask ChatGPT to help me write the script for the movie. I gave him a very short synopsis, a few characters, and even some casting, but other than that, let him write as he sees fit.
The script requires structure, but also, when it comes to dialogue, a real way of saying words. You should also push the envelope on the plot. Can ChatGPT reach the level of a must-read script or a must-see movie?
My brief was about the new one Star Trek franchise film featuring both Captain Picard and Captain Kirk (each played by their original actors Patrick Stewart and William Shatner, respectively). The plot would revolve around their time travel to meet and then deliver dilithium crystals (opens in a new tab) by 2023 as a new global energy source. This would trigger a reversal of climate change (in a sense, their actions would enable the creation of the Federation, meaning they are not changing the timeline, they are amplifying it, but digressing). I left all other casting, plot and action decisions to ChatGPT.
I have to say that ChatGPT totally knows how to script with most of the necessary, albeit skeletal, screen directions. He also did a bearable replica of Kirk and Picard’s banter (last seen in the former Star Trek: Generations (opens in a new tab)). Here’s a little foretaste:
KIRK: What’s going on here, Picard?
PICARD: I’m not sure, Kirk. We’re investigating a space anomaly when you suddenly appeared.
KIRK: Anomaly? That’s one way to describe it.
This computer reads all blogs
Another thing that has become clear is that ChatGPT has already absorbed all of Trek’s knowledge from both the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation (opens in a new tab). His script quickly made use of familiar tropes and characters, including the all-knowing Q (played by Jan de Lanci (opens in a new tab)), who begins a mission to save the Earth.
It threw Emma Stone (opens in a new tab) as a scientist and later added Idris Elba (opens in a new tab).
The problem with the first draft was that it was so short that it lacked a real second and third act. He seemed to jump from premise to conclusion as if he were in a race for the credits.
This was my first tip that typing with ChatGPT is not about telling an AI bot what you want and then letting it write the whole thing. Our first script looked like a rough draft you’d get from a freshman film student.
I asked ChatGPT to expand the script, add more characters from either of the two original series, and introduce a blockade in the form of terrorists who are trying to steal dilithium crystals before Kirk and Picard can complete their mission.
First, ChatGPT lost interest and delivered half of the script. When prompted, he apologized and spat out the rest. This time both captains failed. What kind of Star Trek it is a film? I thought.
I asked ChatGPT to rewrite with Q reversal, which takes the captains out of time so they can go back five minutes before the terrorists blow up half of the crystals and prevent them from completing their mission.
The pair ends
At this point, ChatGPT seemed to forget that he was writing the script for the film and simply provided paragraphs of text without dialogue describing the action. I felt rushed as if ChatGPT was bored with this exercise and just wanted to do it.
While I don’t want to publish the script in its entirety for fear of inadvertent copyright infringement, here’s an excerpt from a hasty conclusion:
Kirk, Picard, Emma Stone’s character, and Starfleet officers work together to install dilithium crystals in power plants around the world, with the ultimate goal of ending the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and avoiding catastrophic events that would lead to the Fall of the Earth.
While working, Kirk and Picard find themselves in a strange new world where strange technology and unfamiliar customs surround them. They must navigate 21st-century New York, mingling with the locals and adapting to a world that is vastly different from the one they know.
In the end, I didn’t end up with a usable script, which was a relief.
It’s not just that ChatGPT isn’t a very good writer, he also lacks the energy and determination to create content on a large scale. ChatGPT has no burning ambition to be an author – no ambition at all. Someone who wants to write a novel or a screenplay can’t just run out of steam. Even as a contributor, ChatGPT is missing. His prose and ideas declined in quality and maturity. I sensed that I ran out of ideas, so I tried to finish the story early.
This is not a profile of a future great author.
My feeling is that whatever ChatGPT helps people post is mostly garbage, and authors and writers are safe, at least for now.