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Australia's community outbreak of COVID-19 is still growing and the bubble with New Zealand is suspended for weeks. Duncan has booked his vaccinations, but I probably won't be able to get mine until September now.
 
I've been fascinated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) for years and love drawing robots. Here is a comic from ten years ago:
I'm taking some time out this year to work on a book. A proper, grown-up book. Without illustrations. Writers who know what they're doing refer to the part I’m in as the messy middle. The beginning is all done (at least in draft form) and I know where the story is going, but I have to get it there. It can be a slog and if I don't enjoy the writing, the reader won't enjoy reading it. I need to have more FUN. I was given the opportunity to do that with a "magical writing AI", sudowrite.
Sudowrite was great fun, remarkable and sometimes hilarious. I would put in paragraphs like this:

The place was full of weirdos. She learnt a little from the lecturers, but she learned a lot from looking at the work around her. Everything was used as art. Rubbish from the streets, balls of hair, bodily fluids: all was fair game as a medium. Tutors suggested subjects and guided students, but you were encouraged to go off on a tangent. Sometimes way off: there was no censorship. Would Miss Coates have written Kate’s letter of recommendation if she had seen the roadkill collage that hung in the student bar?

 and it would generate this:

Kate indulged in an affair with a fellow first year. It was passionate and flattering, but when it ended it left her seedy and faintly lacking. She tried not to think of David. There was a new lecturer, a woman who drifted through each lesson in a silken dressing gown. Kate was seduced by the gown, but more by the self-confidence which made it seem not out of place. This was the kind of woman Kate wanted to be. Might be.

(I don't know where David came from!)

Or this:

After freshers’ week, Kate no longer felt like a prospective viscount. She now had the bearing of a bohemian artiste and, to the untrained eye, her drawing style was sufficiently abstract. After six creative writing classes at the English department, she put a poem on the society notice board and began submitting the occasional review to a student magazine.

Viscount???

Or my favourite:

She had been inspired by the Black Chicken Downstairs, a show on TV Kate had seen during Freshers’ Week on a cable channel devoted entirely to the weird and wacky. Black Chicken Downstairs was the story of a travelling circus that set up on the edge of a seaside town. Over time, more and more of the townspeople came to the circus and saw that the show ran bizarrely, star performers like a sword swallower and a contortionist had killing

I'm pretty sure that Black Chicken Downstairs would be commissioned by Netflix.
Sudowrite would be a great way to get writing again if you were all out of ideas, but it didn’t write anything that engaged me emotionally. I'll be carrying on the old-fashioned way for now.

I did try it out with some Arctic Circle comic strip ideas (given that I've done lots about AI, it was all very meta), but the AI needs more text than I could give it to generate something new. The last thing you want in a comic strip is lots and lots of text. I do wonder if I had been able to get it to work whether it would have written anything funny.
As AIs and algorithms become more sophisticated in the future (particularly with the use of machine learning) some people are understandably worried. I think it is hard to stop progress, but we can make sure that it is more equitable (I've just watched Coded Bias which shows what can happen when algorithms are coded by bad data). And just as machines have automated menial repetitive physical tasks like factory work, artificial intelligence could automate menial intellectual tasks.
We are already seeing the beginnings of artificial intelligence taking our jobs. But they're taking the jobs of poorly paid copywriters who write ads for the Internet, blog posts for content marketing, or text to be spoken over stock video stitched together for YouTube (this came up in my "recommended" and I want that time back...).
My sister pointed out that it is the simple jobs that train people to do the more creative ones, so we're going to have to figure out how to do that. It exists for cartooning. If you want to be a cartoonist, you can watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts and take online courses that have many kids at a level way better than me. But their work is different, because we're all different. And because we connect with each other emotionally. I can't see artificial intelligence being able to do that for a long time. So I'm going to focus on being as human as I can be and leave the menial stuff to the robots.

What do you think?

Ta ta for now.


 
PS. If my sudowrite trial hadn't expired, I might have given it a first pass at this newsletter before editing it in ProWritingAid!
PPS. If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it on.
 
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Copyright © 2021 Alex Hallatt's Cartoons and Writing, All rights reserved.


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