Inspiration vs. AI

No fate but what we make.

ChatGPT, Midjourney, and their ilk are purely ‘plagiarism engines’ that use the work of others to form their responses. Whenever I talk about how AI plagiarism engines don’t create but regurgitate, I get replies about how ‘everything is regurgitated’ and that ‘there are no original ideas’.

I get what people mean by this, but at the same time… it’s a huge false equivalence? Especially when discussing what AI is doing, where you’re comparing ‘inspiration’ with something that’s pretty much just an advanced predictive text.

Let’s say I decide to write a short story. There’s going to be a good chance it’s inspired by something I really like or resonate with–a movie, a song, a videogame, or components of those things–even if entirely unintended.

But the thing is, it’s also going to be shaped by a bunch of other things too: My likes and dislikes, other media, my life experiences, friendships, enemies, and political views.

So that means even if I’m writing a story inspired by something else, it has something AI cannot provide - personal expression. When I write something through inspiration, I add a piece of myself to it.

If you ran a writing workshop with 20 different people and asked them to write a short story on the same genre and, hell, even had them work towards the same ending, you’d still have 20 completely different stories. People inherently draw on their own experiences. We’re shaped by those experiences.

Do you know another difference? Many authors whose work is inspired by something else usually shout that fact from the rooftops. Why? Because they adore the thing they’re inspired by! They want others to love those inspirations as much as they do.

What I’m getting at is that inspiration and expression are elements of creation. You’re not copying, but you’re creating something new with the net sum of your knowledge and experience.

In comparison, if you ask AI to write a short story, it’s scraping the work of others, running them through a meat grinder, and giving you the sausage meat of their work.

In other chats where people have made the ‘no original ideas’ claim, they also point to music sampling or fan art, and again, these are false equivalences.

If a new song samples an older song and is commercially available, the original creator gets royalties and their name goes in the song credits. The new artist also adds their own spin on the piece, whether it’s new lyrics, beats, melodies, or whatever. Personal expression is there.

If someone creates fan art of a character they like, well, that’s just straight-up homage. They’re not even claiming it’s 100% original; it’s hours of investment to show ‘hey, I really love this thing’. And, still, everyone draws and paints differently, so there’s a form of expression to be found in that too; you can do original things within fan art. (I won’t even start on paint studies, which is copying but with the purpose of learning, so they’re morally different too, rest assured.)

So, what if you start with an AI-written piece and then add your own stuff to it in rewrites? Isn’t that the same as music sampling? Are you not adding expression?

No, not even remotely! If you start with a piece written by AI, you’re using the sausage meat of other people’s work from a system that gives them no credit or reward for the use of their work. You’re not even willing to acknowledge the work that led to your starting point.

That’s not expression, that’s exploitation.

I’m Andy, a professional writer, occasional games journalism freelancer, and hobbyist artist. You can follow me on Twitter . If you enjoyed this article, why not shout me a coffee?