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I can't do that, Dave: AI drowns top sci-fi mag with story submissions

Any sufficiently advanced chatbot is indistinguishable from spam

Science fiction and fantasy periodical Clarkesworld Magazine has temporarily paused submissions from authors after being inundated with AI-generated stories.

Launched in 2006, the monthly Clarkesworld publishes a mixture of science fiction and fantasy short stories, articles, and interviews. The award-winning mag is known for publishing work from emerging authors. But in recent weeks real human talent has been drowned out by "spammy submissions" generated by AI, editor Neil Clarke lamented.

Clarke said that since the debut of ChatGPT, he has received an increasing number of sub-par stories that appear to have been written by machine. The editorial team has banned hundreds of authors they believe submitted AI-generated work from December 2022 to February 2023.

"I've observed an increase in the number of spammy submissions to Clarkesworld. What I mean by that is that there's an honest interest in being published, but not in having to do the actual work," he lamented in an essay. The number of AI-generated submissions resulting in bans reached 38 per cent in February.

Tools like ChatGPT automatically generate text in response to an input prompt. The services can produce large volumes of text – and large volumes of submissions to publications like Clarkesworld that welcome unsolicited contributions .

In response, the magazine has decided to stop accepting submissions for the time being as it grapples with the rising tide of AI-generated guff.

Clarke expressed concern that there is no easy way for publishers to deal with AI-generated content. 

Tools that claim to detect machine-written text aren't yet reliable and would likely be too costly to implement for small publishers like Clarkesworld. Instead, the editorial team examines submissions and spots telltale signs of stories being plagiarized or created using AI. The rising rate of submissions has increased workloads for the mag's editors, and made it more difficult to support real human talent. 

"It's clear that business as usual won't be sustainable and I worry that this path will lead to an increased number of barriers for new and international authors. Short fiction needs these people," Clarke wrote.

"It's not just going to go away on its own and I don't have a solution. I'm tinkering with some, but this isn't a game of whack-a-mole that anyone can 'win.' The best we can hope for is to bail enough water to stay afloat."

"If the field can't find a way to address this situation, things will begin to break. Response times will get worse and I don't even want to think about what will happen to my colleagues that offer feedback on submissions. No, it's not the death of short fiction (please just stop that nonsense), but it is going to complicate things."

The Register has asked Clarke for comment. 

People are also using ChatGPT to self-publish entire books online. Over 200 e-books on Amazon's Kindle store list the software as an author or co-author. A sub-genre has even been created for works that have been entirely generated by ChatGPT. 

Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, warned that AI could turn writing from a serious craft into a cheap commodity. "There needs to be transparency from the authors and the platforms about how these books are created or you're going to end up with a lot of low-quality books," she told Reuters. ®

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