For the "Fire!" issue of Spacing magazine, we put out a call for contributions in late February 2023. I also followed the lead of some other magazines and put it on Twitter (before that service got completely Musked). The call was especially for the summer issue theme "City on Fire," thinking about all the ways fire, broadly defined, affects the city and its public spaces.
Within a couple of days, I got a rather odd pitch – it was a little mini-essay on fire and public spaces in Toronto. Quite coherent, but not original. I was puzzled and just sat on it. The next day, I got a very similar pitch – and I realized I was looking at pitches generated by ChatGPT, which had only just arrived on the scene a few weeks previously! I then got a third pitch that focused on fire and the arts in Toronto – a little more specific, but the same style.
I'm pretty sure these were generated by real people – possibly people hoping for an easy payday (though that would be pretty minimal given what we pay), possibly not from Canada. They must have fed our call for contributions into the AI brain to see what came out.
Once I saw the pattern, it was pretty clear. They were very much like high school essays – introduction, some headings with straightforward points, unoriginal but coherent, wrapped up by an "In conclusion" paragraph.
At first I thought maybe I won't be making public calls for contributions again, but later I got several good or at least interesting pitches from real people who weren't on our contributors mailing list, some of which made it into the issue. I feel like now that I've seen them, I can easily weed out any AI pitches. But who knows, as AI develops, perhaps they will become more sophisticated? It will be an interesting challenge as the technology moves forward.
This post is adapted from the March-April 2023 edition of my Desire Lines newsletter.