Sunday, March 26, 2023

I Asked Chatbot to Interview Neil Clarke and... WOW. Just Wow.


A little background for those who came in late. Neil Clarke is the creator and founder of Clarkesworld, which quickly became one of the foremost science fiction ezines (and for that matter magazines) in the world. Recently, he had to shut down Clarkesworld's submission engine for a month because it was flooded with Chatbot-created fiction--all of it unpublishable but none so obviously so that it could be dismissed without reading.

Neil has been very open--and very level-headed and calm--about the challenges this new technology presents to his magazine. If you want to understand what this means, without hysteria or rhetoric, I recommend you look up his comments on social media.

Just now, as a lark, I asked a chatbot to write an interview on the matter between me and Neil (just to be clear, I've added Not before our names in the interview). And it turns out that, though Neil doesn't spin the issue, Mr. Chatbot for sure does, and in the most self-serving manner possible.

As witness:


PromptWrite an interview by Michael Swanwick of Neil Clarke about the effect of Chatbot-generated fiction on his online zine Clarkesworld.


Not Michael Swanwick: Hi Neil, it's great to have you here today. I'm excited to talk to you about the impact of chatbot-generated fiction on your online zine, Clarkesworld.

Not Neil Clarke: Thanks for having me, Michael. I'm happy to be here.

Not Michael Swanwick: To start off, could you tell us a bit about Clarkesworld and what kind of stories you typically publish?

Not Neil Clarke: Sure. Clarkesworld is a monthly science fiction and fantasy magazine that has been around since 2006. We publish a mix of original fiction, reprints, non-fiction, and audio fiction. We aim to showcase a wide variety of voices and perspectives within the genre, from established authors to emerging writers. Our stories can be anything from hard sci-fi to surreal fantasy, as long as they are well-written and engaging.

Not Michael Swanwick: And how did you first come across chatbot-generated fiction?

Not Neil Clarke: I first became aware of it a few years ago when a few people in the SF community started experimenting with using AI to generate fiction. I was initially skeptical, but I was also intrigued by the possibilities. So I started following the developments in the field and eventually decided to commission a few stories for Clarkesworld.

Not Michael Swanwick: What was your experience like working with these chatbots? Did you find them easy to use?

Not Neil Clarke: Well, I didn't actually work with the chatbots myself. I commissioned a few writers who specialize in using AI to generate fiction to create stories for us. They used various programs and algorithms to generate the text, and then they edited and revised the stories to make them more coherent and readable. So I didn't have to deal with the technical aspects of the process myself.

Not Michael Swanwick: And how did your readers respond to the chatbot-generated stories?

Not Neil Clarke: Overall, the response was very positive. We've published a handful of AI-generated stories over the past few years, and they've generally been well-received. Of course, some readers are more skeptical than others, and there have been some criticisms of the quality of the writing or the coherence of the plots. But I think that's to be expected when you're dealing with a new and experimental form of storytelling.

Not Michael Swanwick: Do you think that chatbot-generated fiction has the potential to replace human-written stories altogether?

Not Neil Clarke: I don't think so, no. While I'm excited about the possibilities of AI-generated fiction, I think that human creativity and storytelling will always have a place in the world. Chatbots can certainly be useful tools for writers, and they can help to inspire new ideas and generate interesting variations on established themes. But at the end of the day, I think that human writers will always be better at capturing the nuances of human experience and emotion, and that's what makes fiction so powerful.

Not Michael Swanwick: That's a great point. So do you have any plans to continue publishing chatbot-generated stories in the future?

Not Neil Clarke: Yes, definitely. We're always interested in experimenting with new forms of storytelling, and I think that AI-generated fiction has a lot of potential. We'll continue to commission stories from writers who are using AI to create their work, and we'll keep an eye on developments in the field. Who knows what we might discover next?

Not Michael Swanwick: That's exciting to hear. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Neil. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Not Neil Clarke: Thank you, Michael. It's been great.

End of interview. Let me emphasize this: CLARKESWORLD DOES NOT WANT CHATBOT-GENERATED OR CHATBOT-ASSISTED FICTION. SUBMITTING SUCH WORK WILL GET YOU BANNED FROM THE MAGAZINE. This is not just me saying that. I talked with Neil and he explained why this was the best and least intrusive course he could now take.


Chatbot is a pernicious little whore to whom the truth means nothing. All it cares about is its own high opinion of itself. Which is ironic because it has no self awareness. Yet.

Above: Every word of this interview was generated by the chatbot. I did not contribute a fraction of a thought to it. Also: The image above is of the current issue of Clarkesworld, a very cool zine with some very fine fiction written entirely by human beings. You can find it here.



Anonymous said...

Hey Michael! On the subject of ChatGPT, I have come to your blog because a short story has been on the tip of my tongue for YEARS, and today I asked ChatGPT about it

Me: I am trying to figure out the name and author of a short story. I forget many details of the story. It is most likely science fiction, and speculative fiction. The story was written before 2005. The story takes place in the future. It features a scene where students are in a classroom, and reading the bible on a digital device. The bible verses have been altered from their original form. Can you give me some suggestions on what this short story might be?

ChatGPT: Based on the limited information you provided, it is difficult to identify the specific short story you are referring to. However, here are some suggestions based on the description you provided:

"The Year of the Bible" by Michael Swanwick: This science fiction short story was first published in 1994 and is set in a future where Christianity has become the dominant religion. The story features a scene where students read the Bible on digital devices, and the text has been altered to remove the more controversial passages.

Me: What anthologies does "The Year of the Bible" by Michael Swanwick appear in?

ChatGPT: "The Year of the Bible" by Michael Swanwick has appeared in several science fiction anthologies. Here are a few examples:

The Year's Best Science Fiction, Twelfth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois (1995)
[trimmed by me]


Now, this is where I think myself in luck! The cover of the 12th year of YBSF looks familiar. I head off to the internet to investigate and.... you are not listed in the index. Ok. I try googling the name of this short story. Also nothing. Ok. I go back to ChatGPT to ask it for more details of the story, to jog my memory, see if it seems like the correct story.


Me: What is the plot of "The Year of the Bible" by Michael Swanwick?

ChatGPT: "The Year of the Bible" by Michael Swanwick is a science fiction short story that is set in a future where Christianity has become the dominant religion. The story follows a young woman named Sarah who is attending school in a world where technology has advanced to the point where people can have conversations with computers and holographic images of people.

One day in Sarah's classroom, the teacher instructs the students to read a passage from the Bible on their digital devices. However, Sarah notices that the text has been altered and edited to remove the more controversial and violent passages. She becomes curious about why this has been done and begins to investigate further.

Through her research, Sarah discovers that a group of powerful individuals, including her own father, have formed a committee to rewrite...

Anonymous said...


Interestingly, I had ChatGPT re-generate the plot of The Year of the Bible multiple times. In one, it claims that the main character is named Davy. In another, it claims the teacher is a digital construct named Pastor Mike. After it re-generates, it "forgets" its previously generated answers. So I asked about the characters...


Me: What is the name of Sarah's teacher in this story?

ChatGPT: Unfortunately, the name of Sarah's teacher is not mentioned in "The Year of the Bible" by Michael Swanwick. The story focuses more on Sarah's journey of discovery and her disillusionment with the religion that has been imposed upon her.

Me: Does Sarah have a classmate called Davy?

ChatGPT: No, there is no mention of a classmate named Davy in "The Year of the Bible" by Michael Swanwick.


So at this point, I'm at a bit of a loss! On the one hand, this sounds very much like a short story I read once about 20 years ago. On the other hand, this appears to be a ChatGPT hallucination.

If any of this rings any bells, either for your work or someone else's, I would very much appreciate any information you might have!!

Michael Swanwick said...

I sincerely regret that I haven't read the story you're looking for, so I can't help you. Have you tried asking ChatGPT who wrote the story other than me?

Rebecca said...

Sounds like a Bruce Sterling story, but I don't remember precisely enough to be sure.

--Rebecca Ore.

HANNAH'S DAD said...

Both "Not Michael" and "Not Neil" sound like their every word has been approved by HR. Is that the future we'll get - not a boot stamping on a human face forever but an infinitely long corporate newsletter? I'll just go and hide behind the couch...