August. (AIgust? Alchemust?)

The month rolls to an end, and as climate change disasters shift the seasons around – due to extremely dry conditions here after that heatwave we’ve got something some people are calling a false autumn, trees losing leaves and all – I reflect how lucky I am to have you here, interested enough in my work to make the monthly ritual of a monthly bloggy update worthwhile.

It gives a shape to what would otherwise be a raging river of time with no stops, helps encourage me to cling to the bank for a bit and look back at what’s been happening, you know?

So, I now have two drafted short stories, neither of which I’m very sure about – Abbie’s Kids, indirectly about Abbie Lanthrop and more directly about Troy, and The (Fool’s) Gold Equations, about trying to make it in the post-digital-scarcity world. Neither’s a very happy story, which may be my mood, but… well. Right now they’re both resting so I can come back and lick them into shape.

My plan is to give them a couple of months bouncing around the magazine submissions queues before either A) managing to sell them, or B) providing them here. We’ll see how it works out, but Abbie’s Kids – despite featuring Troy – definitely has an angle to make it of interest to a more general SF audience.

I have also broken ground on ‘To Be Chosen’, which… hmm. It’s a novella? It’s set in Legacy of a Silver Age, that space opera I spent forever and ever planning out, and it’s giving me a chance to get used to the main character. Not sure how far I’ll go with it, it’s purely an exercise in seeing how things feel.

If I manage to get a full plotline I miiiight try and send it to the magazines, first? There are a couple which take novellas, so if it fits I’ll try that, but, otherwise, I intend to provide it here as a somewhat spoiler-tastic thing that might wind up providing the core for a few chapters in an eventual Legacy of a Silver Age novel.

We’ll see. I’m experimenting.

I’d like to be cranking out more material, so I can pursue all the options at once – selling to pro markets, providing stories here, self-publishing, trad-publishing – but I am apparently not quite that quick, at the moment. Life, as ever, likes throwing curveballs at me – but I seem to be doing okay when it comes to dodging them and taking a few swings where it’s easier. We’ll see how that all works out.

One of this month’s curveballs was the absolute shocker about just how far generative neural net AI has come in the past few months, let alone the past few years.

Midjourney and DALL-E 2 get all the attention, but there’s some increasingly powerful text generation tools, and rumour has it that a ton of background listening material on Spotify’s basically mildly edited AI work being thrown up by starving artists.

Some people are saying, don’t worry, it’s like when photography was introduced – it may kill off portraiture, or reduce it to a novelty for the elite, but it created a whole new artform that everyone can participate in. That’s what selfies are, etcetera.

Thing is… photography’s pioneers were as much engineers as artists, toying with the form, preparing their own kinds of chemistry to capture light the way they wanted… it was a whole thing, for decades. It wasn’t taking a product provided by a business taking money so you can play with their toys. And it wasn’t fed on ground up portraits, either.

I have a bug in my bonnet for two reasons, here. The first is copyright, the second is a series of nightmares I had as a kid about being replaced by a doppelganger that everyone would love more than they loved me.

If we feed my entire corpus of work into an AI, and it can generate stories as good as mine, would you still love me, dear reader? Or would you turn to the device that can crank out your favourite stories at 60 words per second?

Well. it’s not theoretical. My work – Orbital Decay, a work for hire – got incorporated into the research dataset ‘Books3’, which got used in GPT-NEO and other open source neural net projects trying to mimic the beast that is OpenAI’s GPT-3 – and I didn’t get paid. I didn’t get asked. I got my book pirated and uploaded, and, strictly speaking, it’s not my copyright anymore. It was, after all, done work for hire, so this is my publisher’s problem, but…

It bugs me. It’s entirely possible that other works of mine that just happened to be online got fed into GPT-3 and it’s pretty hard to know for sure. It makes me paranoid. It brings me back to copyright.

Copyright, aka intellectual property law, is a minefield which the Disney corporation (among others) have been using to defeat the original concept behind the law.

The original concept was to ensure the creator of a piece of intellectual property had adequate opportunity to reap the full reward of having created that intellectual property. Not that a corporation would literally bend culture around itself.

In retaliation, there is something called fair use, and fair use implies that transformative works are okay. It’s our only real defence against Disney, especially when it comes to fanworks.

Thing is, people are saying that it’s ‘fair use’ to take whatever they want off the internet, feed it into an AI, and use the AI to make new stuff.

I won’t go too technical on you, but the tl;dr is that AI is a black box, and you don’t just feed in a prompt to make cool stuff like pictures and stories come out of it. You also feed in training data, and the training data is much more important, because when you change the training data you change the entire nature of the AI.

To prove this… I’ve made my own AI.

It is tentatively called ‘Dr. MoreRat’ and it has been fed on ‘The Library of Dr. MoreRat’, AKA a selection of my novels and other published work, mainly being the San Iadras published works and a few others, like my still unpublished novel, Aconite Braid.

It is my contention that Dr. MoreRat is entirely copyrighted. The training data is copyrighted, the AI itself – which is primarily a database of information it has extracted and reprocessed off the training data – is copyrighted, in the same way a movie, film, or board game adapted from my work is copyrighted, and its output, being derived from both of those things, is, say I, copyrighted.

The whole thing is me.

I made a blender out of MIT license software, fed in my work, and what comes out is still mine.

Am I right? Am I wrong? I don’t know, but if my point of view is correct, then feeding my work into someone else’s AI for commercial purposes without my permission is super not okay.

The AI is, let’s say… a practical project to explore this.

As previously mentioned in a patrons only post, Patreon patrons are entitled to one of the novelty artworks I am producing with Dr. MoreRat, and, Patreon patrons? Please use Patreon to send me a direct/private/whatever message with: The name you would like to own the novelty artwork under, which can (and maybe should be) a pseudonym, and the prompt – if any – you would like to start the AI generation off with.

(Prompts need to be plain text, no punctuation other than periods and commas. It goes wonky when I try and use quotes and apostrophes. ;~;)

The deadline to get this message to me is September 16th! I will try and send a reminder closer to the date.

The novelty artworks are a limited series of .txt files with 10 000 characters of Dr. MoreRat’s output, suitable for all purposes – text generation, inspiration, meditation, password generation, basically whatever you can use bigger and fancier AI for.

And the output? The output is primo. Here’s a sample:

“Okay.” He trails could see in the shower, and slumped against her coffee. “Edane’s through.”

She looked at her funny. Kind of like he had no idea what he was going to die, but there was a lot of time to think.

“You did it.” He gestured at her gums. “What if that was this fucker did you know about?”

“You said Caleb was going to make because you were the one to work out why I’m not supposed to be scared of her brain. But I wouldn’t be slimmed in bed. And he died.”

Troy looked at his phone to help him pull forward and took a moment to stare at him. “We can if you want.”

“Do you want to be alone sometimes, anything about it.”

“You said something real blue.”

“Oh, don’t worry, it’s okay. It was all nice and really matter that anyone’s mention for you, and we’ve gotten this one hour or something that helps me to speak that it’s so hard for that, man.”

Wow, right? Superior in every way to human writing. … Possibly.

Okay, okay, just remember, OpenAI run their stuff on like, a server farm with a thousand dedicated processing units hooked up in parallel. I ran this on my desktop for about three days.

The fact Dr. MoreRat does something resembling dialogue and knows the names of my characters is, in itself, really impressive.

So, I am going to get back to working on the novella and feeling my way into Legacy of a Silver Age – I want to try a San Iadras novella and maaaaybe a third one with some other setting, before I settle down on my next novel project. We’ll see how that works out.

As ever, thank you so much for supporting me, and…

Wait! Random alchemy fact! Why? I discovered it and I think it’s really cool!

Okay, so. In the medieval/pre-modern era, you mostly find gold in one of two ways – refining it out of ore is tricky, does happen in places, but it’s mostly in native gold nuggets, or it’s in dust taken out of rivers, kinda like old gold rush gold panning. Thing is… it’s way easier to find alloyed with silver as natural electrum. WAY easier. But that’s impure gold, you have to do stuff to it to get the silver out to purify it back into gold, right?

Now, silver, silver is commonly found in an alloy with lead – Galena. So you’re making your lead, and, oh, hey, you can do stuff to it to get the silver out.

Okay, okay, now, keep in mind – this is before a model of the world with immutable atoms. The general thought is that noble metals work kind of like plants, like something alive – like how a leaf turns red-gold before falling off the tree, right?

And here’s the evidence for it – you can kiiiiind of turn silver into gold with this weird process using salts, or at least make silver-gold more purely golden, right? And you can kiiiiiind of turn lead into silver, and sometimes that silver-lead even has some gold in it if you do the right things, so…

… So it kind of makes sense that alchemists would assume there’s some pathway to turn lead into silver into gold, right?

Mercury is useful in these processes and hooboy if Isaac Newton, while being an alchemist, didn’t come up with a recipe for special mercury in his own search for the philosopher’s stone.

So, there you have it. The alchemists didn’t get it right, they had some flawed assumptions, but there was a definite logic to their madness.

Okay, random alchemy fact over.

Thank you so much for supporting me, if only by looking in on my efforts and keeping track of my progress, have a good month, and I hope to bring more news of impending stories (and insane AI) to you soon.

Categorized as Patreon

By foozzzball

Malcolm Cross, otherwise known as 'foozzzball', lives in London and enjoys the personal space and privacy that the city is known for. When not misdirecting tourists to nonexistant landmarks and lurking at bus stops, Malcolm enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy with a furry twist.