What does AI mean for authors? A panel discussion

Ahead of our AGM on 23 November, we brought together experts from different fields to discuss the rise of artificial intelligence and what it might mean for authors.

The panel was chaired by technology philosopher, author and ALCS Chair, Tom Chatfield. The other panellists were Mhairi Aitken, Ethics Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, Sathnam Sanghera, award-winning author and journalist, and Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive at the Society of Authors.

Tom Chatfield began by reminding the audience of the immense importance of writing, creativity and intellectual property: “They are part of the ways in which a society knows itself, generates ideas, expresses itself, tells the stories that need to be told and they generate enormous amounts of pleasure and value. All of which are under threat, but there is a great deal we can do.”

Tom explained that a general lack of understanding of AI is a challenge, but that this lack of understanding works both ways: “Tech companies who know a lot about technology, often know very little about writing, language, the creative act, the governance of data or the ethical deployment of their own technologies. They may be the experts in their field, but we are the experts in ours.”

Mhairi Aitken acknowledged the risk that AI poses to authors: “Over the last year there has been a lot of sensationalist narratives around generative AI and the risks involved. For authors, these risks are much more real and tangible. These systems are trained on data that has been used without consent or compensation. And in some cases are being used in ways that may displace jobs for writers.”

Nicola Solomon said that the issue has galvanised the creative industries to stand up for their rights: “There has been mass copying of creative works in order to create these large language models. Not only are creators not being paid for it, technology companies are claiming they don’t need to have consent. The creative industries are standing together in a way I’ve never seen to point out that this is just wrong.”

Sathnam Sanghera spoke about the injustice of huge sums of money going into AI companies, while authors’ incomes continue to fall: “$200 billion is being poured into AI annually, and as we know from ALCS, the median earnings for writers in the UK is £7,000 a year and in real-terms, earnings have fallen 60%. That is slightly imbalanced.

We have law suits, but we might not win because it’s debatable whether they’re plagiarising us. Even if we do win, we get a fraction of a lot of money. Frankly, I would rather my work isn’t used, and I was given no money.”

You can watch the panel discussion in full below:

You can also learn more about our principles for AI and authors here.