Will AI Generate and Hold a Human Audience?

Writing is both relational and responsive, always in some way part of an ongoing conversation with others

-Andrea Lunsford

Maybe these things will go the way of the player piano.

-Carol Blauvelt

Will AI-generated writing hold our attention? Will we, as humans, be a responsive and engaged audience? After all, without an audience, no writing really matters. ChatGPT seems rhetorical. It gestures convincingly towards the persuasive. It chats with us. It is interactive. It is writing addressed to us and created for us. But will we listen? Or, will we listen for very long?

DALL-E2 Generated Image, May 3, 2023. Prompt: “Photo of a player piano in an elegant but deserted hotel lobby.”

I’ve been thinking about player pianos. Have you ever listened to one in a fancy hotel lobby? Thanks to technology, player pianos produce pleasant and correct sounds. And yet, as a listener, I’m not very interested. I’ll sip my drink and listen for a while, but I’m never rapt. Player pianos seem hollow and gimmicky, even when playing perfectly rendered sonatas. Certainly I would never buy a ticket, get dressed up, and drive to a concert hall just to hear a player piano “perform” a sonata. On the other hand, I would go to this trouble to hear a human being play that very same sonata on that very same piano. I think the same might prove true for writing. We’ll always be more eager to read words authentically generated by other humans, to relate and respond, to join a conversation deeper than a chat. For writing to be real and lasting, it must generate a real and lasting audience. Will there be an audience for the outputs of this new technology? Will large language models be capable of generating large sets of human listeners? Maybe, but maybe not.

- Stephen Monroe (@stephenmmonroe)