Thursday, March 21, 2024

On AI Authorship: What's the meaning of this?

In this article I'm sharing the results of my experimenting with the AI authoring tool ChatGPT. It was a fascinating process and I'm still thinking about the meaning of it all. And I encourage you to follow along below and think about it too, since our AI writing partners and our AI partners in so many other creative endeavors are starting to show up everywhere!  As you read the samples below, consider:
  • What or who should be given credit for the authorship of these works? 
  • Are these works as valuable as they might be if they had been created by a clearly identified, individual human author?
  • What are some appropriate uses of the AI tools that created them?
  • Since ChatGPT outputs are not subject to copyright, how or when should the inputs that went into shaping a ChatGPT work product be flagged and credited? (Should there be... Can there be... an "audit trail" of the stuff that got "blended" invisibly into the final output?) 

A One-Page Short Story

I asked ChatGPT to create...  “A one-page short story in the style of Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Willa Cather.”

In response, ChatGPT wrote (in part): 

"In the serene depths of the forest, where the whispering leaves dance to the rhythm of the wind and the sunlight filters through the canopy like a gentle caress, there lived a solitary soul named Ezra. He was a man of quiet contemplation, finding solace in the simplicity of nature and the company of his thoughts.

Each morning, Ezra would rise with the sun, greeting the dawn with a silent reverence. He would wander through the woods, his feet treading lightly upon the earth, his senses alive to the symphony of life surrounding him. He would pause to admire the delicate beauty of a wildflower, the intricate patterns of a spider's web, the graceful flight of a butterfly.

As he walked, Ezra would often recite verses from Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," his voice blending with the rustling leaves and the gentle babble of the nearby brook. He felt a kinship with the poet, a shared reverence for the natural world and a belief in the interconnectedness of all living things.

In the quietude of the forest, Ezra found a refuge from the noise and bustle of the world beyond. Here, amid the towering trees and the cool shade of the underbrush, he felt truly alive, truly at peace. He would lie beneath the branches, his eyes closed, listening to the symphony of nature unfolding around him.

In the distance, he could hear the distant call of a bird, the faint rustle of a squirrel in the branches above. And in those moments, Ezra felt as though he were part of something greater, part of the eternal cycle of life and death that bound all living things together... "

When Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau
& Dr. Seuss are thrown into the AI blender, what gets lost?

A Poem

I asked ChatGPT to create...  “A one-page poem in the style of Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Willa Cather.”

In response, ChatGPT wrote: 

"In quiet woods, where whispers dwell,
Nature's symphony, a tale to tell.
Beneath the towering trees, I roam,
In solitude, I find my home.

Like Thoreau, I seek the simple life,
Far from the city's bustling strife.
In Walden's woods, my soul takes flight,
Embracing nature's gentle might.

Walt Whitman's spirit, strong and free,
Sings in every rustling tree.
I am vast, I contain multitudes,
In nature's arms, my gratitude exudes.

Willa Cather, with her prairie song,
Inspires me to wander long.
Across the plains, beneath the sky,
I find my truth, I find my why.

In Thoreau's woods, Whitman's verse,
Cather's plains, I immerse.
A blend of souls, a harmony,
In nature's embrace, I am truly free."

A Short Story Outline

I asked ChatGPT to create...  "an outline for a short story by Willa Cather, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Dr Seuss about a family traveling across the country."

In response, ChatGPT wrote: [I added only bold, bullets & indents for ease of reading. -MG] 

"Across the Open Road: A Collaborative Outline

Genre: Literary Fiction with a sprinkle of whimsy

Setting: American landscape, spanning various locations as the family travels (think vast plains, bustling cities, hidden valleys)


The Johnson Family:

  • Margaret Johnson: A strong-willed woman inspired by Willa Cather's heroines, yearning for adventure and a deeper connection to the land.
  • William Johnson: A practical man, reminiscent of Thoreau, seeking self-reliance and a simpler life amidst the changing world.
  • Lily Johnson: Their curious and imaginative daughter, channeling Walt Whitman's free spirit and Dr. Seuss's playful touch.

Plot Outline:

Part 1: The Call of the Open Road

  • Unease Sets In: The Johnsons, despite their comfortable life, feel a growing restlessness. Margaret longs for wide-open spaces, William craves a life less tethered to material possessions, and Lily yearns for grand adventures.
  • A Spontaneous Decision: Fueled by a shared desire for change, the Johnsons impulsively sell their belongings and purchase a well-worn RV, christening it "The Wanderlust."
  • Farewell, Dear City: With mixed emotions, they leave the familiarity of their city life behind, embarking on a journey across the vast American landscape.

Part 2: Encounters and Explorations

  • Willa's Whispers: As they traverse the Great Plains, Margaret feels a kinship with Cather's heroines, drawing strength and inspiration from the rugged beauty of the land. She finds solace in solitude and connects with the spirit of the pioneers.
  • Thoreau's Tranquility: William seeks moments of reflection and self-reliance, inspired by Thoreau's writings. He finds peace in simple living, connecting with nature through camping, stargazing, and quiet contemplation.
  • Whitman's Wonders: Lily, with her boundless curiosity, embraces the Walt Whitmanesque spirit of inclusivity and wonder. She celebrates the diversity of people and places they encounter, collecting stories and experiences like colorful threads in a tapestry.
  • Seussian Surprises: Along the way, they stumble upon quirky towns, eccentric characters, and fantastical situations, reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's whimsical worlds. These encounters add a touch of magic and humor to their journey.

Part 3: Growth and Transformation

  • Facing Challenges: The family encounters obstacles – breakdowns, detours, and disagreements – forcing them to rely on each other and adapt to their ever-changing circumstances.
  • Finding Their Rhythms: As they adjust to their nomadic lifestyle, each member discovers new strengths and perspectives. Margaret learns to embrace spontaneity, William finds joy in connection, and Lily develops resilience and resourcefulness.
  • The Heart of Home: Despite the allure of new experiences, they realize that "home" is not a place, but the love and shared journey they create together.

Part 4: The Road Less Traveled

  • A Crossroads: Reaching a breathtaking vista, the Johnsons contemplate their future. Do they continue their nomadic adventure, settle in a new place, or return to their old life?
  • An Open Ending: The story concludes without a definitive answer, leaving the reader to ponder the characters' choices and the enduring power of exploration, self-discovery, and the ever-evolving American landscape.

Additional Notes:

  • Each author's style and themes can be subtly woven into the narrative, creating a unique literary tapestry.
  • Consider incorporating elements of nature, Americana, and the changing social landscape of the chosen time period.
  • The fantastical elements inspired by Dr. Seuss should be sprinkled sparingly, adding whimsy without overshadowing the core themes.
  • This outline is just a starting point, feel free to adjust it to fit your creative vision!"


As you can see from the examples above, any human writer who is working with a powerful AI partner like ChatGPT is able to "hit the ground running" and will quickly end up far ahead (at least in terms of volume of output) of his non-AI-using competitors. But is this really what we want? 

Today, when an article is published, it is common practice to attribute it to a particular named author or authors. In this way not only do authors get credit but readers are able to dig into an author's other works and learn about their credentials, biases, areas of expertise, etc. 

In contrast, in a world where many authors' works are blended and pureed we are in grave danger of individual identities being lost and "audit trails" becoming impossible to discern. In such a world, the main casualty becomes truth itself. 

So it seems to me that we, as readers, have this duty:

When we read something (AI-generated or not!) we need to push hard to learn the sources used to create it. Only then can we judge its true value... and the value of its "truth."


[Note: I generated the unique, copyright-free image above of the two android "authors" here: ]