Sci-Fi Publishers Are Bracing for an AI Battle

I started with a Tweet from a bar graph Picturing a sharp rise in February: Neil Clark, publisher and editor-in-chief of Science Fiction & Fantasy ClarksworldFor the past few years, he has been planning to publish several stolen and unwanted submissions. Until late 2022, the bars were barely visible, but in the past few months — and especially this month — the numbers have skyrocketed, mostly due to AI-generated content. Clark wrote a post explaining the situation, titled “A Concerning Direction”. Five days later and a massive amount of online chatter later, Clarksworld announce it Closing submissions for now.

Clark says they’ve seen this problem grow for a while, but they took the time to analyze the data before speaking about it publicly. “The reason we get those is so much of the side hustle community,” he says. Earn money using ChatGPT. They’re not science fiction writers — they’re not even writers, for the most part. They’re just people trying to make some money off some of this stuff, and they’re after people who make it look like they know what they’re doing.” He adds that after he’s seen some of the how-to videos involved, “there’s no way what they’re doing is going to work.”

Clarksworld Published nearly two decades ago, and while many science fiction and fantasy (SFF) magazines have set submission periods, the publication usually keeps submissions open throughout the year. As with its peers – and unlike some publications in the field of literary fiction – there is no fee for submitting your work. Clark cites the SFF community’s devotion to the Yog Law, a principle formulated by writer James D. MacDonald that states “money should flow toward the author.” This openness is important to Clarksworld“We’re a broad market,” Clark says. “We want to attract from all over the world, all kinds of voices.” But being responsive also means that fighting AI spam doesn’t just mean putting up additional barriers to entry.

“We’re going to reopen — we have no other choice,” Clark says. “But we take the position that it will be trial and error.” Clarke, a computer scientist by training and developer of the site, stresses that he won’t explain the exact technicalities of those experiments—why give spammers a step-by-step guide? But the changes will be small and will target the trends they’ve noted in their data collection. “As far as I’m concerned, what we’re dealing with is a scenario not unlike a battle over malware, credit card fraud, and denial-of-service attacks,” he says. “Everything is of the same type. You have to find a way to run the business in a world where these things exist.”

the Clarksworld The situation has been the subject of fascination far beyond the SFF field: Clarke joking about the robot in their logo, the irony of a sci-fi magazine falling victim to artificial intelligence. But among many writers – both at SFF and more broadly – there was a sense of hopelessness, that the inevitability of AI-dominated artistic creativity had finally been fulfilled. Although the US Copyright Office recently rejected a comic book claim created by artificial intelligence, the concern over what AI would mean for a financially unstable industry is palpable.

Clark thinks the writers are right to worry, but now the concern is about the amount of rubbish clogging up an already saturated space. “This isn’t a quality problem — it’s a quantity problem,” he says. “We’re drowning. They’re being yelled at. And as for a writer who’s new right now, I feel bad for them because this is going to be a problem. The number of markets that will take the shortcut to avoid this problem is not zero, and every single one of those that happen is hurting them. So they have reason to be amazed.”


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