AI will just be another tool


I have a sticker that says “My Happy Place,” and I kept it for a while, wondering where to put it. In the end, I stuck it near my desk so I could see it while I write. I am usually happy when I’m writing.

On Monday, however, I was not happy. I had a major technology breakdown, and I had no idea what I had done wrong. As it turned out, I had done nothing wrong (which is rare, when it comes to technology). Microsoft had a failure that lasted for almost two hours. During the technology breakdown, I had an accompanying emotional breakdown. For two hours, I was not in my happy place.

Only after it was over did I look back on the experience and realize how easy all this annoying technology makes my life every day.

I’ve heard of writers who use old typewriters, or write entire novels by hand, and then type them up on their computers. They even have a device that only lets you see a couple of lines at a time and has no access to the internet. I guess this is because some writers consider the internet an obstacle to writing. This seems very silly to me. Without the internet, how would I know that avenues run perpendicular to streets and that lanes can run in either direction? How would I find funny cat videos?

I hear writers complain that they would get more done if they were in a cabin in the woods like Henry David Thoreau, but they forget Thoreau had somebody copying his manuscript for him and his sister bringing him lunch every day. All our imaginings of how the past might have been better for writing are romantic nonsense. Right now, at my little desk, I know I have it better than any previous generation of writers ever has.

I had a chance once to see an original manuscript written by Charles Dickens. It was behind glass, and I no longer remember which novel it was. But it was thrilling to see, in his handwriting, how he had come up with his stories, just like anyone else.

And like anyone who writes, he had circled sentences and entire paragraphs and drawn an arrow to where he wanted them moved. Of course, this was all done with a goose-quill pen. It must have taken Dickens a long time to finish anything, even if he got some help. I wondered if he would have written more if he’d had a computer. My hunch is that we would have at least one more novel by Dickens if he’d had word processing.

Now, a lot of people are concerned about how artificial intelligence might replace writers. I am not terribly worried. I suspect AI will be another tool — like word processing. It’s unimaginable to us now, but we’ll learn it and then wonder how we ever got along without it.

I don’t think we’ll give computers the job of telling stories because we like telling stories too much. Telling stories to one another is about the most human thing there is. A story comes from one person and is told to another person. We’ve been figuring out ways to do this since we were gathered around a fire. I don’t think anything will stop us — no matter how much that storytelling changes.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing. Microsoft sent me a nice note explaining that what happened on Monday was its fault. I’m thinking of having it framed — and hanging it in my happy place.

Till next time,


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