I have been writing a zombie novel for about 6 years now (on and off, procrastinating hard) and I wondered if I could use AI to finish it for me. I wanted to see how well GPT-3 could match my writer’s tone of voice. The results were pretty incredible. Everything in italics is the output of the model, even down to the line breaks the model chose. The story will be followed by my analysis of how well the model performed and what I had to do to guide it a bit.
Since I first started learning and writing about AI, I kept seeing clickbaity doomsday posts about how AI will take our jobs. In the case of things like warehouse automation, that reality is already here and we need government legislation in place to prevent that.
However, my biggest worry (but also something I’m looking forward to seeing) is that AI will progress enough to become more creative than humans. When GPT-2 was released, I thought ok, there is some potential, but nothing to worry about yet.
When GPT-3 was released, and I saw what was being done with it, the reality of machines surpassing humans in the arts became all too real.
I’ve been writing a zombie novel for about 6 years now (on and off, procrastinating hard). And I wondered if I could use AI to finish it for me.
I’m not really considering this because to me that’s pretty much plagiarism and I could never take credit for the work, but I wanted to see how well GPT-3 could match my writer’s tone of voice.
The results were pretty incredible.
My GPT-3 Zombie Novel Writing Experiment
- Everything below in bold (including headings) represents the inputs I gave GPT-3’s davinci engine.
- Everything in italics is the output of the model, even down to the line breaks the model chose.
The bolded text initial input is the real text from the beginning of my zombie novel (hopefully coming to a bookstore near you). Please read the amazing zombie fiction brought to you by Limarc Ambalina and GPT-3.
The story will be followed by my analysis of how well the model performed and what I had to do to guide the AI a bit.
It’s cold. I wake up, shivering, hugging my knees tight against my chest. I feel the chill of my own arms in the palms of my hands. The sky is a dark blue, the shade a child would paint an ocean at night with no stars to speak of. But in the distance, through the fields of tall grass and reeds, I see stars slowly coming toward me.
We had been on the road for a while. We could no longer leave our mark on the world so the world left marks on us. Each step we took drove dirt and stone deep into our soles and the stench of the dead burned our nostrils like a brand onto cattle.
What do you think Billy? Leona said.
I kept my eyes forward, watching the horizon. About what?
Them. She pointed to one of the rotting Infected corpses that lay in the ditch to the right of us. You think they go to heaven when they turn? She looked up at the sky as we walked past the body. I wiped the sweat off my forehead. Well? she asked impatiently. What do you think!
There ain’t no heaven girl, a whiny Southern voice called out from behind us. And there ain’t no hell neither. Just dirt and worms. We could barely see Malcolm’s eyes under the shadow of his cap. Leona looked up at him and then down at her feet.
No one asked you Malcolm. I looked at him with angry eyes as he spat and stared back at me. I gripped my rifle instinctively. I watched him until he gave in and slowed his pace down to let the others catch up behind him. Leona remained silent beside me. Don’t listen to him, I told her. He’s dumb and he’s weak. She remained silent. For a girl of only eleven years old she was forced by this world to grow up far too quickly. You hear me? I asked as I turned my head to look down at her. She wasn’t there.
Billy! I turned around and saw her. She had stopped a few feet behind me with her arm up, pointing at the road ahead. There was a figure in the distance running toward us, jerking its head sporadically. I motioned for her to get down and raised my rifle. Through the scope, I saw one man in ripped jeans and a dirty, torn flannel shirt. His eyes were wild, his teeth, bared. He was Infected.
Malcolm, Frank and Santana caught up to us and Frank got on one knee beside me. What is it? he whispered. I came to trust Frank. In the two months we had traveled together, I came to rely on him and Santana more. I had seen him chop the arm off an Infected in one clean swing. He was strong, stronger than me.
An Infected, I said. I had the man’s chest in my sights and I pulled the bolt back to make sure I had one in the chamber. It’s just one. We’ll just wait for him to get here and— I lifted my head up off the scope and stood. Even in the distance, I could see the numerous figures that had emerged from behind him.
And what? Frank said.
We’ve got to get off the road, I called out behind me so the rest could hear and started toward the edge of the forest. It’s a swarm!
The Long Road:
We were standing in the woods, hidden behind trees and bushes, watching the Infected advance. It was the first time I had seen one of them close enough to tell it was an Infected. It was still human, but it was like it was crawling, like it was trying to climb up out of its own skin. Its skin was torn, torn by something deep inside trying to get out. Its eyes were covered by a layer of blood and the clothes it wore were ripped to shreds. It was covered in blood and gore and was missing most of its hair. It had the look of a rabid dog.
We have to go, Frank said. Malcolm looked at him and then back down the road. We can’t just leave them. He looked at me and then at Leona. Do you know what happens to a person when they turn? he asked. She shook her head. Malcolm turned to us. They can’t be saved. They don’t know who they are anymore. They don’t know who they’re killing. They’re just killing because they’re hungry. He motioned to the swarm. They’ll kill everything they see. They’ll kill each other. They’ll kill their families. We can’t save them. He looked at Leona and then back to me. We go.
We ran into the woods and the Infected followed. They were slow, but there were so many of them that they would eventually catch us. We ran and we ran and I could hear the Infected crashing through the trees behind us. We ran and ran and we came to a fork in the road and we could see the sun shining through the trees up ahead and we knew we had to get there and we knew we had to get there fast and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran and we ran.
We ran until the sun was gone. We ran until the moon was high. We ran until the woods disappeared around us and we found ourselves standing in the middle of a corn field. We could see the town ahead of us. We could hear the Infected behind us. We couldn’t keep this up for much longer.
We had to find shelter.
We found a house. It was a small white house with a porch and a tiny front lawn. It had a barn and a small shed and a fence surrounding them. It was perfect. We needed to rest and we needed a place to hide. It would be a place to stay for the night.
The four of us walked into the fence and through the gate. We walked up to the front door and I knocked.
No one answered. We waited, but there was no answer. I knocked again. Still nothing. I tried the door and it opened. I walked in and the rest followed me. We walked through the living room and into the kitchen. There was a door on our left that led into the garage. I turned the knob and walked in. It was dark inside. We were in the corner of the garage with the smell of gasoline filling our nostrils. I could hear the Infected getting closer. We had to be quick. I reached out to my left and grabbed onto something. I felt it for a moment and then I knew exactly what it was. I pulled it off the wall and turned on the light. There was a generator. I turned the switch and the lights turned on. I looked around the garage. There was a car. I walked over to it. It was a red, two door car with a LOTUS sticker on the back window. I could hear the Infected outside. They were getting closer.
I pulled the hood off the car. I knew what I was looking for. There it was. I pulled the battery out and connected the wires. I put the battery back in the car and connected the other end of the wires to the generator. As I flipped the switch on the generator, the engine turned over and the lights turned on. I turned the switch off and the lights and the engine turned off. Everything was connected. I looked at Frank and gave him a thumbs up. Everything was going to be okay. We waited a moment and then we walked out of the garage. The Infected were surrounding the house. We ran over to the front door and ran inside. I closed the door behind us. I turned the lock and we were safe. We were safe for now.
We walked through the house, searching for something to eat. We found a pantry in the kitchen with canned food and boxes of crackers. We each grabbed what we could and took them to the living room. We put them down on the table and sat down on the couches. We could hear the Infected scratching at the front door. They would be in the house soon.
My Analysis of GPT-3’s Prose Mimicking Capabilities
In one word: amazing. But there are some interesting points to note about the output it gave me.
Firstly, you’ll notice that I chose to wrote in Cormac McCarthy’s (my hero) style when it comes to dialogue. Instead of quotation marks around dialogue, I use nothing at all and hope that I write well enough that the reader can tell what is dialogue and what isn’t.
You’ll notice that GPT-3 understood this and in their output, they didn’t use quotation marks either:
We have to go, Frank said. Malcolm looked at him and then back down the road. We can’t just leave them. He looked at me and then at Leona. Do you know what happens to a person when they turn?
Also, GPT-3 identified my writing style of short, choppy sentences, and was able to mimic it very well.
Secondly, you’ll notice that midway through the AI started a section about a neverending zombie chase. I wanted to end that chase because it was getting out of hand. To do that, I had to guide the AI a bit with this input
“We couldn’t keep this up for much longer.
We had to find shelter.”
I inputed it exactly like that on two separate lines. GPT-3 understood exactly what I wanted: stop the chase and make the characters find shelter. What followed was a scene where the survivors enter a house, find a generator and a car in the garage and use the generator to boost the car battery. They then shelter in the house and find food – pretty decent plot events and totally matching with the zombie genre as a whole.
Thirdly and most impressively, GPT-3 recognized that the story was being told from the perspective of the main character called Billy, and maintained that POV throughout. And the only indicator of that was this single line in the input text:
What do you think Billy? Leona said.
One mistake I noticed in the output is that the AI seems to think there are only four characters:
The four of us walked into the fence and through the gate.
However, there are 5 characters mentioned in the input: Billy (protagonist), Frank, Santana, Leona, and Malcolm.
So in the end, I think GPT-3 has become an extraordinary mimic and can ghostwrite incredibly well. There are small errors that can easily be fixed by a human. The biggest gripe or worry I have with this technology is if bad actors would use it to try to make a quick buck.
It wouldn’t be too hard to input Shakespeare, try to get the model to write a zombie play in Shakespeare’s voice and then sell that work as if you wrote it on your own as an homage to Shakespeare. I love writing and my biggest worry now is that fake writers will use this tech to pretend to be writers to make some cash.
However, at the same time, Open AI went from GPT-2 to GPT-3 in about one year.
Imagine what GPT-5 or GPT-10 will be like!
I’m almost certain that eventually AI will surpass humans in the creative arts, but until then, I better get this novel published ASAP!
What do you think about GPT-3’s output in this experiment? Let me know in Community.
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