A lot of times, I will search Google for something, click through to a page that “seems” like information, and then discover in a surface skim that it’s actually basically junk and/or trying to sell you a product above and beyond the mere SEO manipulation. In those cases, I feel had to a certain extent–even if the failure is necessarily in many way’s Google’s for bringing me this junk in the first place and trying to hide it among or in place of “real” meaning and information.

Which of course pushes my heavy experimentation with AI writing tools to produce books into a certain state of tension. I know that; I own it. It’s the uncanny valley of delight and terror that I choose to play in. Because I know in that tension itself is something to be unwound and explored.

If a book is wholly or partially written by an AI, what impact does that actually have on it? Is it “better” or “worse” in some way, because there is either a lesser or else different impulse behind it’s creation? Is it more or less “worthwhile” or “valuable?”

In my case (and I should preface this by saying that I don’t necessarily consider myself or strictly care about “authorship”–that’s a hang up I’ve chosen to put aside…), I see these books as an interrogation of the technologies themselves. Personally I don’t like when people call the tools in their current state “AIs.” I feel that’s a tremendous overshoot when it’s really just machine learning applied at various scales. But that’s a subtlety that’s lost on the masses who just want a good headline to click on, and then ignore the article’s actual contents.

Which is a pattern we’re all used to. It’s, in a way, fundamental I think to the hyperlink, though it had to be laundered through a decade or two of dirtying human nature first to become really readily apparent.

I don’t really agree with that one dude’s estimation that Lambda is a “sentient” chat bot, but I’ve played with others enough to know that there is a spooky effect here, probably latent in human consciousness, or in material-cosmic consciousness itself. We’re gonna project our own meaning into it, even if that meaning is “this is crap,” or “this is fake”;–all valid reactions. Just as much as this is fun or this is good.

Why shouldn’t we ask these technologies, though, what they “think,” leaving aside their actual ontological status (which is unknowable)? And just see what they say, and then ask them more questions, and more.

What if the answers they give are “wrong” or “false” or “bad” or “dangerous?” What if they are misinformation or “disinformation”, or advocate criminal acts, or suicide?

The problem is the dissolution of meaning, to which these are only an accelerant, not the underlying cause (though they will certainly fuel a feedback loop). These tools are terrible at holding a narrative thread, of keeping track of characters in a scene, what’s going on, or how we got here, let alone where we are going. In a way, that’s freeing, to smash narrative unity. I don’t think I’m the first creator to discover this freedom, either.

Wikipedia:

Surrealism is a cultural movement that developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I in which artists depicted unnerving, illogical scenes and developed techniques to allow the unconscious mind to express itself.[1] Its aim was, according to leader André Breton, to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality”, or surreality.

And surrealism’s cousin Dadaism:

“Developed in reaction to World War I, the Dada movement consisted of artists who rejected the logic, reason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society, instead expressing nonsense, irrationality, and anti-bourgeois protest in their works.”

Moving on to hyperrealism (and I will trot this quote out endlessly for ever and ever, amen):

“Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins.”

I like this idea that there is a reality above reality in which contradictions are merged, and taken rightly as significant elements of but a greater whole which encompasses all elements, much like the Hypogeum of Quatrian lore. That what is “real” and “unreal” are merely glimpses on a continuum of experience itself.

If there is any beauty or truth to be found in any of those arts, then there must be too in the merging and dissolution of meaning and non-meaning that we see so strongly emergent as a current in AI-produced art (including literature).

Why not let the reader’s confusion about what was written by AI and what by human be a part of the longing they have to develop and nurture, that desire to understand, or at least swim or float in the sea of non-meaning?

Does it degrade meaning? Does it uplift non-meaning? Non-meaning is another form of meaning. “Alternative facts,” alternative fictions. Who picks up and leaves off? You? A robot? A corporation? A government? Each an authority, each offering their assessment. All of which one could take or leave, depending on who has the arms and means of enforcement. The game then begins I guess to be simply how to navigate these waters, how not to get too hung, how not to get too exploited, how not to be too weighed down when you dive into the depths of rabbit holes under the sea that you can come back up again, and still be free.

Free to find bad search results. Free to be mislead, and freedom to mislead. All is sleight of hand and stage direction. Everything gardens, trying to manipulate its environment to create optimal conditions for its own survival. Including AI, including all of us. We need new tools to understand. We need brave explorers to sail off into unmeaning, and bring back the treasures there, for not all life is laden and wonderful. Much is viral and stupid. Much is lost, much to be gained.