Cyborg Storytelling: AI-Assisted Writing in Web3

Recently, the team at Readl posted about one of the great integrations that they are offering Write3 authors on their platform — access to AI art generators like Midjourney directly from their Discord.

They also reviewed a range of other options for creating AI art to enhance Web3 storytelling — by empowering writers to create unique covers for their stories using platforms like DreamStudio, DALLE·E2, and StarryAI.

But today I want to talk about a very different way that Web3 writers may find themselves using AI in NFT storytelling — to actually write part of their stories.

My words, as a Web3 Writer while using AI Art Tools

My journey down the rabbit hole of AI-assisted writing began with a question from Seth J. Putnam, another writer who’s a member of the Literary NFT Square on Deca.art. I’d posted some artwork that I’d recently collected from MesmericNFT — not because it had just appeared in the Mecenate Fine Art Museum in Rome (which it had) — but because the AI-generated image, and the very human quote that accompanied it really resonated with me as an author.

A pair of literary-themed art NFTs by MesmericNFT (left) and AnaScripcariu (right)

The quote, which accompanied the NFT shown above and to the left reads — “Frederick Douglass taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom. There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom, but reading is still the path.” — Carl Sagan

The NFT on the right is from Ana Scripcariu, and the quote that accompanies it is by Roald Dahl — “Those who don’t believe in magic, will never find it.”

I asked what people thought about the intersection of AI art and literary NFTs — and my post sparked a very interesting conversation — Seth asked:

“Edward, what are your thoughts on AI writing? I’ve known about GPT-3, of course, but I’ve recently learned about a tool that has crawled the entirety of the internet — which you can feed samples of your own writing to — and it will offer you prose in your own voice. Can’t decide whether I love it or hate it.”

I confessed that I had no idea what he was talking about, at which time he showed me an article in The New Yorker that led me to Sudowrite — an AI-powered writing platform.

I read the article. I signed up for a Sudowrite account. And then inspiration struck.

What would happen if I fed the AI author lines from one of the most famous artificial intelligence in modern fiction? I mean, of course, Roy Batty, the cyborg antagonist from the iconic science fiction film Blade Runner.

Batty was a man — well, a machine of few words, yet his dying soliloquy at the movie’s end is considered one of the great monologues of modern filmmaking.

But what was going through his cybernetic mind in the dramatic pauses that linked the terse fragments of his speech?

I decided to ask Sudowrite to help me fill in the blanks — and the result was a new piece of flash fiction, published exclusively as an NFT on Readl Stories.

Tears in the Rain Story on Readl Stories

I drafted an opening scene, describing the rain, the rooftop, Batty’s opponent John Deckard lying stunned in front of him. I added the cyborg’s first words — “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,” and fed them into the writing prompt for the AI.

Sudowrite spits out a range of possible options — several of them complete non-sequiturs, but one of them… Well, the last sentence of it just felt right. Seventeen words out of 45 — but they seemed to form the perfect phrase — and they were not words that I would have written!

And as I spoke, I knew that that journey, that road ahead, did not involve a return.

But I found that I needed to add some text to frame Sudowrite’s sentence — so I did.

Then I took all of that, and the cyborg’s next words — “Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” — and again I fed the sentences into the AI… which, as before, produced just enough meaningful text for me to work with — to edit into a story that I would not otherwise have written.

In the end, the Sudowrite AI wrote about one-quarter of the story — the rest were my words, or Roy Batty’s. An AI also furnished one beautiful piece of interior illustration and helped to develop elements of the cover art.

AI-assisted the author in creating both the interior illustrations (left) and the cover art (right) on stories.readl.co

I recalled some other snippets from my conversation with other authors in the Literary NFT Square. My friend Geoff Evenden observed that writers will not be able to fight advances in AI, noting that “it was a similar feeling for artists when the camera was invented.”

And Seth, who is a writer and editor by trade, agreed, saying that:

“As someone who works with words professionally, the question for me is not if we can fend off AI, but rather how we can elevate the quality or efficiency of our writing with it.”

Truer words never spoken, in my opinion.

As for myself, I’m sure I’ll still publish a lot of material that is written by myself alone — but one thing that Web3 is teaching me is the power of collaboration — with individual human artists and illustrators, and with human-run organizations like Readl and Deca. But now my eyes are open to a new set of collaborators for both writing and artwork: the artificial intelligence that can already assist — but not yet replace* — the human creators of future works of literature.

Like the team at Readl, and my fellow authors on Deca, I believe that AI is starting to play a crucial role in storytelling — and that we as creatives need to quickly learn how best to leverage this new technology.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes next — but what do you think?

If you found this post to be interesting, and especially if you are a writer or artist yourself, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Tears in the Rain, which includes a 1400-word “author’s note” that expands considerably on the current limits of AI engines for writing and art, and discusses the creative process of working with both types of AI platforms to create works of fiction.

Edward Carpenter — Web3 author

Edward Carpenter has a Master's degree in Creative Writing and Literature from Harvard, reads for the Harvard Review, and has won awards for both his fiction and non-fiction writing. He is one of the early pioneers of Web3 writing, publishing stories on both the Ethereum and Polygon blockchains, as well as putting out the Metalibrarian Minutes, a free, weekly-ish newsletter focused on helping share what he learns about writing and publishing in Web3.

An early supporter of Readl, he is an advocate throughout the literary NFT space for improving the onboarding experience for readers and writers, expanding options for paying out royalties to collaborators, and developing read-to-earn models to encourage the adoption of Web3 reading around the world.

To date, Edward has published Tears in the Rain, Lethargica, and Seven Lives to Repay Our Country as NFTs — his newest NFT fiction, Happily Ever After, will be available in December 2022.

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Readl Stories

About Readl

Readl is the first web3 platform designed to help storytellers, publishers, and NFT projects that want to publish, manage and distribute multimedia literary content on the blockchain, without requiring specific technical knowledge.

Our platform allows storytellers to create a decentralized library of literary NFTs, keeping perpetual royalties, and where audiences can discover and consume content they love from any device and with web2 user-friendly onboarding.

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Edward H. Carpenter

Author, businessman, athlete, Marine officer, and world traveler. Likes rugby, reading, scuba-diving, and volunteer teaching. Hates liver and sea urchins.