Hello, welcome to 500 Words. This newsletter was written by a human.

TOP OF MIND

Do we cooperate or fight? When considering AI, this is the question before us as artists. The choices we make now will make all the difference later.

AI chatbots need data to sound smart, and the data they’ve gathered was ours first. Somebody wrote the words and drew the drawings. Somebody gathered the facts and set them down in a story. The chatbot scrapes this creative work from the internet and presents it as its own.

We’re starting to see AI turn up everywhere now. Google has been experimenting with using AI to shape your search results. No longer does Google direct you to a nice blue link, but shows you a word salad made of stuff scraped from the web. As Rusty Foster, author of the Today in Tabs newsletter, wrote:

It’s pure automated plagiarism that treats the content of the web as raw material for Google to harvest and reuse however it sees fit.

The choices for people who create and post to the internet is to stand and fight, or post where Google won’t see, or make a deal. The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Chicago Tribune, The Orlando Sentinel, and five other daily newspapers, have chosen to stand and fight. They’ve sued OpenAI and Microsoft.

The complaint said the chatbots regularly surfaced the entire text of articles behind subscription paywalls for users and often did not prominently link back to the source.

I’d need to check my notes, but I think that’s called stealing. When a bully stands before you, it’s courageous to stand your ground. Suing OpenAI is a good move.

But, if you look at the other side of the pixel, it may make more sense to cooperate with OpenAI, Microsoft, and the other internet bullies, because they already rule the internet.

In this spirit of cooperation, Vox Media and The Atlantic have bowed down and allowed OpenAI to access their online treasure. News Corp, The AP, DotDash Meredith, and Axel Springer have also said to OpenAI, “Fine, take what we have.”

By making a deal with our internet overlords, these publishers argue that they will have a place at the table. OpenAI can capture their content, and maybe Vox will get a link back to vox.com.

This is a sad argument made from a position of weakness, but it might be necessary. It’s like your army has been defeated, and you show up at a meeting expecting to negotiate surrender terms, only to realize that surrender terms will be dictated to you. (Looking at you, General Robert E. Lee.)

Back in 2016, publishers like BuzzFeed said they were going to “pivot to video” on Facebook. Actually, BuzzFeed was being paid to post video on Facebook. For a while, it looked like Facebook was going to be great for publishers. Eyeballs, payments, a platform! When “pivot to video” was declared as a strategy, BuzzFeed was valued at $1.76 billion. Eventually, Facebook tired of partnerships with news organizations and dumped them. As Damon Beres wrote in The Atlantic, “Today, BuzzFeed trades publicly and is worth about 6 percent of that 2016 valuation. Facebook, now Meta, has a market cap of about $1.2 trillion.”

Things worked out well for Meta, but not for BuzzFeed. This is because being a publisher or artist today is like riding a bicycle and discovering that someone else owns all the roads and trails and can charge you for riding them. Or it’s like publishing your work and discovering that someone else controls all the eyeballs, ears, and brains of your audience, and can point them wherever it pleases.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING NOW

When I wrote my novel Surrender, I set the story in 2050, figuring that the story was near-future enough to feel like it could happen, yet far enough in the future to not happen soon. I was wrong about that. Most of the storyline, even my most outlandish ideas, are coming true faster than I could have imagined.

I imagined a company named MIND that was planning to suck up all of our work, and even our thoughts, and profit by them. We would be their unpaid workers, providing “content” that they would use as they saw fit.

This is what OpenAI is doing. Today! (They don’t yet have direct access to our thoughts, but, you know, check back in a couple of years.) This is the system that I work in now, as an artist who publishes on the internet, and as a writer who depends on search and algorithm results to show my work to new people.

And this brings me to a contradiction.

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then, I contradict myself. / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

— Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

PRE-ORDERS BEGIN NEXT WEEK

My second novel, Resist, will be available for pre-order as soon as next week. It’s the second book in a trilogy. Surrender was the first, and a book I’m working on now called Liberation is the third.

All three books are about a future dictated by AI and algorithms, and the characters in all three books grapple with how to fight the AI or choose to cooperate with it.

As I release the books into the wild, their storylines also describe the reality of selling a book on Amazon. To succeed, I need to cater to Amazon’s system of ranking books.

Next week, I’m planning to release the ebook version of Resist for pre-orders. If you reserve a book, it will help me a lot. So yes, in order to gain a seat at the table, I am opting to acknowledge Amazon’s book-ranking power.

Pre-orders can help boost a book’s sales rank even before it is officially released. Better ranking means increased visibility and discoverability on Amazon. Last time around, I elected not to play this game. I let the Amazon rankings happen, and I sold most of my books through another platform, called IngramSpark, and most of my sales were wholesale, through bookstores, and to libraries.

This time, I’m playing it differently. Most people buy their books on Amazon. So I want Amazon to prominently display Resist. If you’d like to help, consider ordering a book when the pre-sale campaign starts.

Thanks for reading,

Lee

REFERENCES

8 Daily Newspapers Sue OpenAI and Microsoft Over A.I.

A Devil’s Bargain With OpenAI by Damon Beres The Beres excerpt quoted above can be also found at Today in Tabs, at a link that is not paywalled. www.todayintabs.com/p/omg-hag…

Litigate or License News Publishers Struggle With Letting AI Have Their Content

Vox Media, the Atlantic Ink Licensing Partnerships With OpenAI

Song of Myself, 51, Walt Whitman