AI Authors: Who owns the rights to the future?

Self-employed in publishing

This is a guest post from Jasmin Kirkbride. Jasmin is a regular blogger for BookMachine and Editorial Assistant at Periscope Books (part of Garnet Publishing). She is also a published author and you can find her on Twitter @jasminkirkbride

We need to talk about AIs, algorithms and Rights. Over the next decade or two these issues are only going to become more prominent and will likely become major concerns for the Publishing industry.

AI authors – fact, not fiction!

On Thursday, Publishing Perspectives posted an article on possibility that AIs will soon writing our books for us.

This is not as far out as it first sounds. Major and minor news outlets across the web are already using AI-authored stories on their websites. These AIs are capable of compiling articles from raw data and, for the most part, they are indistinguishable from those written by humans. While these stories are still cleared by human editors and have certain flaws, such as not being able to include quotes, they can produce stories almost instantaneously, and in multiple languages. What’s more, they can create thousands of news stories in the time it takes a human journalist to produce only one.

Needless to say our friends in Silicon Valley are already working on the next generation of these AIs: ones which can write fiction novels. I scoffed a few years ago when I heard they were going to write news stories, I’m not fool enough to scoff again.

Personalized book

The really big thing about these AI-written books will be that, they could be tailored to each reader’s personal preferences.

The news stories coming out of AIs are a perfect example of this, with many forward-thinking news outlets not commissioning one story for thousands of readers, but one story for five readers, or sometimes even one. Using data collected about you, news sites can use algorithms, much like the ones controlling what pops up on your Facebook feed, to predict the sort of news you’re going to want to read. They can even designate editorial spin, language and length. You’re going to visit the site again, because you read what you wanted to read.   It’s a sound business move.

It’s not a far leap to say that the same thing could take place with AI-authored books when they are released to market. AIs and algorithms programmed to work together to produce stories to suit you exactly.

Who owns the rights?

Time out. Let’s take a minute to think about the business effects this will have on the Publishing industry. Most importantly, let’s think about Rights.

The people who own the Rights, or are likely to financially benefit from AI-authored books, are likely to be: the company that produced the raw data to feed the AI; the builders of the AI; the programmers who developed the algorithms; and the distribution service used to get the book to the reader.

Under the current Publishing model, getting a book on shelves involves four distinct entities: writer, agent, publisher, bookseller. The new model might not. It is likely that all four of the beneficiaries mentioned above will have to work collaboratively under one company in a seamless, interdisciplinary effort in order to make the system work.

And we will be left without a slice of the pie.

But it doesn’t have to be that way…

It is unlikely that AI-authored books will completely supersede those written by humans, but they are going to become part of the fabric of our everyday lives, just as AI-authored news stories have.

Whether or not I agree with the psychological consequences* that such systems might create for us on an individual and group level, it is clear that if we do not act, our industry will face over the next decade a similar crisis to the one brought to us by the eBook.

These developments are inevitable, given the number of digital start-ups working on them. We need to start collaborating and evolving with them now, to produce a future that includes us.

*For more on this, I thoroughly recommend checking out the New Scientist article The Algorithms That Run Your Life, to be found in last week’s edition.

Note from editor: If you are an emerging author, submissions are now open for One Big Book Launch

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