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In the Wake of AI Books, What Does Authorship Mean?

While of course it's easy to use AI to generate text, the quality and storytelling are lacking.

We all know there are a lot of books out there. Perusing your local used bookstore and you may find hundreds of old romance paperbacks, and somehow most of them managed (at least at one point) to make the New York Times bestsellers’ list. It’s estimated that 500,000 to 1 million books are published each year, and that’s excluding self-published material. The publishing market has become saturated, with the average book selling less than 200 copies. From the advent of the printing press centuries ago to e-books and online publishing, humans alone have managed to generate a mountain of words.

But suppose one person could “generate” not just a few books in a lifetime, but hundreds every year? According to a Futurism article, that’s exactly what a man named Tim Boucher has done–drafting a whole book takes him less than a workday. Sharon Adarlo writes,

The books feature esoteric-sounding titles like Mysterious Hum and The Zalachete Fairy. A quick read of one of them, Inside the Hypogeum, a story about an underground cave temple, reveals a meandering explainer of the fictional locale and legends — but no discernible plot or developed characters to sustain reader interest.

-Sharon Adarlo, Man Uses AI to Write 97 Terrible Books, Sells $2,000 Worth (futurism.com)

You probably guessed it; he uses Large Language Models to generate books. Boucher’s online ratings are mediocre, and Adarlo notes that his most popular title was published in 2021, without the help of AI. Boucher also employs Midjourney to illustrate the novels. While clearly, it’s easier to use AI to generate text, the quality and storytelling are lacking.

If AI books become more and more common, it might get harder to define “authorship.” While Boucher made the inputs, AI did the generating. So, who’s the author? And what might this do to copyright issues? It might be too early to speculate, but the foundation is being laid for even more saturation of the marketplace and the ambiguity of authorship.

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In the Wake of AI Books, What Does Authorship Mean?