On a recent video on Daniel Greene’s YouTube Channel, author Brandon Sanderson — the guy behind Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive and the final three Wheel of Time books — shared his “Doom and Gloom Predictions” for the publishing industry. That included his thoughts regarding the advent of generative AI.
Sanderson actually isn’t as worried by the advancement of AI as some other authors. “I think AI will, inevitably, get to the point where it can write books as good as or better than writers, but do we care about that?” he asked.
According to Sanderson, it’s not a question of whether computers and AI can actually write something as good as or better than humans; it’s a question of whether it matters. In some fields and industries, it obviously will and does matter. But in terms of novels, Sanderson thinks part of the appeal for consumers is connecting with the human authors of the work.
Sanderson gives two great examples. He talks about a trip to Hawaii where he bought a carved piece of art. He sought out the artist who carved the piece, although he didn’t know if it was that different than a machine-produced piece that you could find in any store. It mattered that it was made by a human because that inspired a “connection.”
I agree with that! To me, it’s more likely that art, including books and novels written by humans rather than AI, will become more coveted, not less. It’s the human touch that separates the art from the mass of “content” available.
Sanderson also mentions his college roommate Ken Jennings, Jeopardy champion and now co-host. He references when Jennings competed against and lost to computers at Jeopardy, but points out that Jeopardy still features humans as its contestants although computers know more. “I was watching when the computer beat him at Jeopardy, right?” Sanderson said. “We don’t put three computers to play Jeopardy, even though a computer can play Jeopardy better than Ken can. Because, you know, we’re looking to see what a human can achieve and that’s something we enjoy.”
That’s a fair point. To me, it also ties into the psychology of fandom. It’s part of the reason we watch Jeopardy, professional sports, TV and movies, and read books. We’re all interested in what humans can do. There’s a connection between storytellers and entertainers and their audience. Can that be replicated by AI? Will it ever be? Perhaps, but that seems rather far away given what we’re dealing with right now.
And that’s where Sanderson digs into the real problem with modern publishing, which isn’t necessarily related to AI. It’s more about the big companies involved with publishing and other creative industries only worried about filling time, satisfying subscriptions, expanding IP, and more. It’s less about the art, and more about what the art can do to drive interest and make money. Sanderson sees this meaning fewer royalties for authors and creators going forward. “A lot of the companies that are really powerful right now don’t value the individual author, voice, and don’t value the art of the story. They see the purpose of books as something else,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson references shows on Disney+, comparing Wandavision to The Book of Boba Fett. Wandavision had a clear direction and intent to tell the story in a specific way, while Boba Fett felt more like an attempt to cash in on a popular IP. That’s where my fears lie with most of the AI-related conversation. I don’t see at as a replacement to real art, but I do fear that it will become the gatekeeper of art. Things simply won’t get made, published, or produced because they don’t fall into the specific box that makes venture capitalists wealthy on the backend. It feels like that’s where we’re moving, although it’s clear we aren’t there yet.
Netflix is another good example. While the streamer still claims to have a human touch when it comes to renewals and cancellations, it’s clear that shows must clear an algorithmic viewership threshold to get renewed. I fear that lack of nuance will get even worse as AI and computers become more pivotal in the art-as-commerce space.
Sanderson also mentions the lack of collective bargaining for authors and novelists is different than it is for writers in Hollywood, another problem. “Maybe someone will be able to prove me wrong, and we’ll be able to figure out some way, but it’s just proving impossible,” he finished.