“AI won’t replace you, but someone who uses AI will.”

Nobody really knows who said it first, but I heard that line from Jason Moore, a fellow presenter at the Ohio Writer Conference, last weekend. I found Jason to be very wise and I enjoyed his panel discussion.

Years ago, I helped Viktor Shvets develop The Great Rupture, a treatise on the coming AI industrial revolution. So I’ve been stewing on this topic since before it was cool. There’s a real existential danger here that no one’s talking about.

The conference panel repeated a lot of ideas about AI that I’ve heard before.

The technology is neutral, it’s how you use it that matters.

AI won’t do the job for you, it will do the job with you.

Garbage in, garbage out—AI is just a tool.

Every new tool threatens the artistic community at first, but ultimately opens new doors.

These claims are valid, but dubious for a couple of reasons. Bear with me. Let’s get on the same page with this briefly, but then I want to tell you what should really scare you about this whole AI situation. It’s not what everyone’s talking about.

This is not really AI

What we call AI now is not really AI in any science fiction sense. When we talk about modern AI, we’re talking about two things: language model and machine learning.

  1. ChatGPT and its contemporaries are groundbreaking in their ability to turn natural human phrasing into commands, and in their ability to parse seemingly “original” ideas back to the user in human-like natural phrasing.
  2. “AI” systems are capable of limited self-learning. AI can’t conceptualize a problem and invent a new task, but within pre-programmed tasks, the machine can collect and apply new data to the same task.

There’s no real creativity within this generation of “AI.” It can’t recognize a new problem and invent a new solution. All this software can do is recognize common language patterns, and then inject seemingly random data into them for the illusion of creativity.

This is important because whenever I hear something like AI can’t do the job for you… I immediately think, “…yet.” We’re just scratching the surface of where this technology can go.

I have long contended that corporations are throwing the label AI on products now that really aren’t artificial intelligence, simply so that when legitimate AI emerges, we’re preconditioned to accept it. (Plus, “AI” is a cool marketing term.)

We are the frog in the pot of water, and the burner just clicked on.

Is the safety of AI in its limitations?

The safety of AI is usually couched in the idea of its limitations. It can’t do the job for you—it can’t do this, it can’t do that.

But ten years ago, what it’s doing today was impossible. Fifty years ago, if you would have predicted how we use computer technology today, you would have been laughed out of the room.

AI’s limitations, as with all technology, are always temporary. It’s only impossible until it’s not.

Can AI write a coherent, compelling book today? Of course not. But are we really suggesting that it’s not possible?

Do you see how formulaic Hollywood movies are? Do you think it’s that great of a challenge to program a computer to produce the next Fast and the Furious script?

But all of that is not what concerns me the most. Here’s what concerns me the most:

AI won’t replace you, but someone who uses AI will.

Someone who uses AI will replace you. You’re getting the job done now, using your current tools. So the AI is a more efficient tool for something you’re already using it. I’m all for capitalizing on the tools available to us to do our best work. So what’s the problem?

The two biggest ways that I have heard writers use AI is for idea generation, and idea validation.

The problem is not the what are you replacing with AI. It’s not a what, it’s a who, and the who is plural.

AI for Idea Generation

My friend was showing me how she used ChatGPT recently. She asked it for ten ideas for bestselling fantasy books. Half of the ideas were super random and hardly made sense, but a few of them were actually really good ideas. Like I got excited to think about writing them.

In seconds, I had more ideas than I could use. What an amazing tool.

But I have to stop and ask an important question. I’ve been writing for years and coming up with ideas just fine (most of the time) when I need them. Where did I get my ideas before?

As a Christian writer, the source of my ideas is the Holy Spirit.

God is creative. It’s his first role in the Bible—creator God. When we create, we participate in His nature and we commune with Him.

If you need ideas, you can turn to the Holy Spirit, or you can turn to a machine.

If your idea well is dry, you need to refill it. What source are you going to fill it from?

A dry well is a symptom of a heart condition. Just like a headache tells me I need to drink more water or take a nap, if my idea well is dry, it tells me that I’m not spending enough time with Jesus.

Garbage in, garbage out is true for ChatGPT and it’s true for me too. If my well is dry, I’m not putting enough good stuff in. That includes books, movies, podcasts, good conversations with friends that nurture and inspire me. But the best stuff I can refill my well with is the Holy Spirit.

ChatGPT can refill the well in a few seconds. Or I can spend hours with Jesus, I can make a habit of it even.

Call me crazy if you like, but I think it would be foolish to replace time with God with the instant results of a machine. Time with God is the win, creative stimulation is like a bonus.

I can’t find the reference, but there’s a character in the Bible who’s always trying to replace God. Gosh, who was it? That’s right…SATAN.

Wouldn’t the enemy love to turn our attention, our communion, away from the source of creation, and wouldn’t he love it instead that we would worship and seek inspiration from something we’ve made? Idols made of ones and zeros are not exempt from the commands of the Bible.

AI for Idea Validation

Another idea that was explored by the panel was using AI to check your ideas. You can tell ChatGPT, “Be the skeptic, and give me five arguments against my thesis.” You could do the same thing with a short story or novel outline.

You know who else is really good at this? A community of people who love you. They’re really good at hearing your thoughts. If you invite them to give feedback and listen humbly, they’ll ask great questions like “Have you considered this?” and “But what about this?” It’s actually really a lot of fun.

If you don’t have people around you who can do that, or you’re personally unwilling to share vulnerably with them, that’s a symptom of something that needs to be fixed. Finding good, healthy community is hard. It takes work.

The quick and easy solution is to employ the machine. Let it do the work and it will provide instant results, no people necessary.

I think people are kind of a really important part of the whole thing, though, don’t you? It sounds like there’s going to be a lot of people in heaven. Jesus taught me to pray that earth would look like heaven, plus he said all that stuff about loving each other…it seems like Jesus thought we’d hang out quite a bit. Then there’s the first Christians in Acts who had in everything in common. (Do you think that included ideas too?)

The better solution that actually puts you in a healthy and safe place, where you create with God and enjoy all that he has for you, is to do the work to find and submit to community.

The community you now enjoy is the goodness, the benefit to your work is the bonus.

Are there legitimate uses?

I’m not against using the tools we have available to us. Even AI.

It is just a tool. It’s not a sentient, creative life form. I use all kinds of software and technology to make my life easier and to do my creative work.

Afterall, AI isn’t really AI. What we’re calling “AI” is mostly just a marketing label. These are really just software tools. There are plenty of legitimate ways to use “AI” for your writing.

But we do need to be cautious. Anything that we add to our lives we need to ask the question, “Is this replacing something good that God intended for me?”

If any tool or technology replaces God and healthy relationships in your life, it’s not worth it. I don’t care if it makes you better and faster—so does cocaine.

God wants you more than he wants your books. God wants you in a healthy Christian community far more than he wants what you’ll produce.

Great work is a symptom of a great life with God.

AI is a helpful tool now, but even used in the right way, it’s a Trojan horse.

We’re opening up a world in which the creator is replaced by the created. Because “…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator…” (Romans 1:25

And we’re opening up a world in which we become even more isolated.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Which animal does the lion attack? The one who’s left his herd.

AI won’t replace you, but someone who uses AI will.

And what is that person who uses AI replacing? You.

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