Battles between human and artificial intelligence are no longer science fiction. The strikes in Hollywood led by the united guilds of actors and screenwriters have a common, intangible enemy: the algorithms and computer-generated imagery that are increasingly programmed by studios to render them redundant.
In New York last week, a new front in that stand-off was opened by a group of American novelists – including John Grisham, Jodi Picoult and Jonathan Franzen – who are suing OpenAI, the creators of the ChatGPT program. The writers claim the software company has trampled over their copyright by “feeding” its program with their books, “training it” not only in natural language, but perhaps eventually to produce page-turners of its own. (The lawsuit alleges, for example, that ChatGPT has already created an unauthorised and detailed outline for a “prequel” to George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones novel series, entitled, not entirely convincingly, A Dawn of Direwolves.)
The legal case may help to define and protect those increasingly porous boundaries between human creativity and the robots that mimic it. In the meantime, Amazon, these days flooded by self-published books written by AI, has taken its first half-hearted steps to curtail that practice. The retailer has set a limit to the number of books that any one novelist can reasonably upload. Writers toiling away at the fifth revision of their long overdue debut will no doubt be comforted to know that the limit is set to three books a day.
Atrophy in the Lords
Last week’s debate in the House of Lords, which blocked the bill banning the import of big game trophies to the UK, was one of those that had you double checking the century. The measure had been part of Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto and passed unopposed through the Commons. There is little, of course, that Tories of a certain cast enjoy more than mansplaining hunting, and this bill brought them out in force, with 62 amendments designed to derail the ban (of the 11 peers who spoke against the bill, six were hereditary and eight went to Eton).
All of those voices were at pains to confirm that they would not dream of having the head of Cecil the Lion above their own fireplace. Still, they made the filibustering case that the practice of trophy hunting was, counterintuitively for the trophies in question, the most effective method of conservation. It incentivised local populations to protect wildlife – in order for it to be expensively slaughtered by gurning tourists. It was, as several of the peers argued, apparently without irony, only the older and more out-of-touch big beasts that were selectively culled for the good of the wider population. The debate ended at 9.58pm when Lord Robathan suggested it was past time for his bed.
It was always inevitable that Netflix, in its life-and-death struggle for subscribers, would be tempted to make a “reality” version of Squid Game. The Korean show made $900m for the platform, and a second series is some way off. The trailer for Squid Game: The Challenge was released on Friday ahead of its November launch, promising 456 green-tracksuited hopefuls the chance of a winner-takes-all $4.56m.
The show will cheerfully ignore the fact that the original was a dystopian satire. Filmed at an aircraft hangar in Bedfordshire last winter, the principal jeopardy for contestants seems to have been restricted to the absence of thermal vests. There is one surprise in the advance promotion for the show, however; it appears Matt Hancock is not taking part.
• Tim Adams is an Observer columnist