ChatGPT launches boom in AI-written e-books on Amazon

Consumer interest so far has been sleepy, with authors having sold just a dozen AI-generated books through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 February 2023
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ChatGPT launches boom in AI-written e-books on Amazon

  • Bot-made e-books have sparked an intense debate about authenticity, future of writers

SAN FRANCISCO: Until recently, Brett Schickler never imagined he could be a published author, though he had dreamed about it. But after learning about the ChatGPT artificial intelligence program, Schickler figured an opportunity had landed in his lap.
“The idea of writing a book finally seemed possible,” said Schickler, a salesman in Rochester, New York. “I thought ‘I can do this.’“
Using the AI software, which can generate blocks of text from simple prompts, Schickler created a 30-page illustrated children’s e-book in a matter of hours, offering it for sale in January through Amazon.com Inc’s self-publishing unit.
In the edition, Sammy the Squirrel, crudely rendered also using AI, learns from his forest friends about saving money after happening upon a gold coin. He crafts an acorn-shaped piggy bank, invests in an acorn trading business and hopes to one day buy an acorn grinding stone.
Sammy becomes the wealthiest squirrel in the forest, the envy of his friends and “the forest started prospering,” according to the book.
“The Wise Little Squirrel: A Tale of Saving and Investing,” available in the Amazon Kindle store for $2.99 — or $9.99 for a printed version — has netted Schickler less than $100, he said. While that may not sound like much, it is enough to inspire him to compose other books using the software.
“I could see people making a whole career out of this,” said Schickler, who used prompts on ChatGPT like “write a story about a dad teaching his son about financial literacy.”
Schickler is on the leading edge of a movement testing the promise and limitations of ChatGPT, which debuted in November and has sent shock waves through Silicon Valley and beyond for its uncanny ability to create cogent blocks of text instantly.
There were over 200 e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store as of mid-February listing ChatGPT as an author or co-author, including “How to Write and Create Content Using ChatGPT,” “The Power of Homework” and poetry collection “Echoes of the Universe.” And the number is rising daily. There is even a new sub-genre on Amazon: Books about using ChatGPT, written entirely by ChatGPT.
But due to the nature of ChatGPT and many authors’ failure to disclose they have used it, it is nearly impossible to get a full accounting of how many e-books may be written by AI.
The software’s emergence has already ruffled some of the biggest technology firms, prompting Alphabet Inc. and Microsoft Corp. to hastily debut new functions in Google and Bing, respectively, that incorporate AI.
The rapid consumer adoption of ChatGPT has spurred frenzied activity in tech circles as investors pour money into AI-focused startups and given technology firms new purpose amid the gloom of massive layoffs. Microsoft, for one, received fawning coverage this month over its otherwise moribund Bing search engine after demonstrating an integration with ChatGPT.
But already there are concerns over authenticity, because ChatGPT learns how to write by scanning millions of pages of existing text. An experiment with AI by CNET resulted in multiple corrections and apparent plagiarism before the tech news site suspended its use.
THREAT TO ‘REAL’ AUTHORS?
Now ChatGPT appears ready to upend the staid book industry as would-be novelists and self-help gurus looking to make a quick buck are turning to the software to help create bot-made e-books and publish them through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing arm. Illustrated children’s books are a favorite for such first-time authors. On YouTube, TikTok and Reddit hundreds of tutorials have spring up, demonstrating how to make a book in just a few hours. Subjects include get-rich-quick schemes, dieting advice, software coding tips and recipes.
“This is something we really need to be worried about, these books will flood the market and a lot of authors are going to be out of work,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of writers’ group the Authors Guild. Ghostwriting — by humans — has a long tradition, she said, but the ability to automate through AI could turn book writing from a craft into a commodity.
“There needs to be transparency from the authors and the platforms about how these books are created or you’re going to end up with a lot of low-quality books,” she said.
One author, who goes by Frank White, showed in a YouTube video how in less than a day he created a 119-page novella called “Galactic Pimp: Vol. 1” about alien factions in a far-off galaxy warring over a human-staffed brothel. The book can be had for just $1 on Amazon’s Kindle e-book store. In the video, White says anyone with the wherewithal and time could create 300 such books a year, all using AI.
Many authors, like White, feel no duty to disclose in the Kindle store that their great American novel was written wholesale by a computer, in part because Amazon’s policies do not require it.
When asked for comment by Reuters, Amazon did not address whether it had plans to change or review its Kindle store policies around authors’ use of AI or other automated writing tools. “All books in the store must adhere to our content guidelines, including by complying with intellectual property rights and all other applicable laws,” Amazon spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said via email.
A spokeswoman for ChatGPT developer OpenAI declined to comment.
FROM CONCEPTION TO PUBLICATION IN JUST HOURS
Amazon is by far the largest seller of both physical and e-books, commanding well over half of sales in the United States and, by some estimates, over 80 percent of the e-book market. Its Kindle Direct Publishing service has spawned a cottage industry of self-published novelists, carving out particular niches for enthusiasts of erotic content and self-help books.
Amazon created Kindle Direct Publishing in 2007 to allow anyone to sell and market a book from their couch without the hassle or expense of seeking out literary agents or publishing houses. Generally, Amazon allows authors to publish instantly through the unit without any oversight, splitting whatever proceeds they generate.
That has attracted new AI-assisted authors like Kamil Banc, whose primary job is selling fragrances online, who bet his wife he could make a book from conception to publication in less than one day. Using ChatGPT, an AI image creator and prompts like “write a bedtime story about a pink dolphin that teaches children how to be honest,” Banc published an illustrated 27-page book in December. Available on Amazon, “Bedtime Stories: Short and Sweet, For a Good Night’s Sleep” took Banc about four hours to create, he said.
Consumer interest so far has been admittedly sleepy: Banc said sales have totaled about a dozen copies. But readers rated it worthy of five stars, including one who praised its “wonderful and memorable characters.”
Banc has since published two more AI-generated books, including an adult coloring book, with more in the works. “It actually is really simple,” he said. “I was surprised at how fast it went from concept to publishing.”
Not everyone is blown away by the software. Mark Dawson, who has reportedly sold millions of copies of books he wrote himself through Kindle Direct Publishing, was quick to call ChatGPT-assisted novels “dull” in an email to Reuters.
“Merit plays a part in how books are recommended to other readers. If a book gets bad reviews because the writing is dull then it’s quickly going to sink to the bottom.”


Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes

Updated 27 May 2024
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Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes

  • Magazine faced backlash on social media for appeared attempt to censor pro-Palestinian solidarity

LONDON: Vanity Fair France was forced to issue an apology for digitally removing a Palestinian pin worn by actor Guy Pearce at the Cannes Film Festival.

On May 21, Vanity Fair published an article featuring several photographs of celebrities attending the festival. Among these was a portrait of Pearce wearing a black Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo.

Social media users quickly noticed that a pin of the Palestinian flag seen on his left lapel in other images had been removed.

Journalist Ahmed Hathout was one of the first to highlight the alteration, tweeting: “So Guy Pearce showed solidarity with Palestine at Cannes by wearing a pin and Vanity Fair decided to photoshop it out. Little did they know the bracelet was also of the Palestinian flag colors.”

The French subsidiary of the American magazine faced significant backlash on social media for what appeared to be an attempt to censor pro-Palestinian solidarity.

One user, @DarkSkyLady, tweeted: “Can we finally admit many of these outlets are propaganda-mouthpieces for colonialism and white supremacy?”

Another user, @Joey_Oey89, commented: “Reminder to unfollow and mute Vanity Fair. They smear celebs who take a stand against genocide and have made their stance clear.”

Responding to the criticism, Vanity Fair France posted an apology under Hathout’s tweet: “Good evening. We mistakenly published a modified version of this photo on the website. The original version was published on Instagram on the same day. We have rectified our error and apologize.”

The article on the magazine’s website now displays the unaltered image.

Pearce was among many celebrities at the prestigious festival who expressed solidarity with Palestine amid Israel’s brutal assault and seige on Gaza.

Other notable figures included actors Cate Blanchett and Pascale Kann, supermodel Bella Hadid, Indian actress Kani Kusrut, French actress Leila Bekhti, and Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El-Moudir.
 


Online anger following The Atlantic’s ‘possible to kill children legally’ in Gaza article

Updated 27 May 2024
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Online anger following The Atlantic’s ‘possible to kill children legally’ in Gaza article

  • The Atlantic’s writer Graeme Wood suggested that in certain scenarios killing of children can be legally justifiable
  • Campaign group condemned the piece, calling the The Atlantic’s stance on the issue ‘egregious’

LONDON: The Atlantic has ignited a wave of online criticism after publishing an article arguing that “it is possible to kill children legally” in Gaza.

Titled “The UN’s Gaza Statistics Make No Sense,” the opinion piece by staff writer Graeme Wood questioned the accuracy of the UN’s civilian death toll numbers from the Israeli war on Gaza.

Wood suggested that the UN’s statistics were unreliable, claiming they are sourced from Hamas.

“The UN numbers changed because the UN has little idea how many children have been killed in Gaza, beyond ‘a lot.’ It gets its statistics from Hamas,” the piece read.

Wood, known for his skeptical stance toward Hamas and Palestine since the conflict erupted last October, controversially suggested that in certain scenarios, the killing of children can be legally justifiable.

Despite acknowledging that “even when conducted legally, war is ugly,” Wood argued, “It is possible to kill children legally, if for example one is being attacked by an enemy who hides behind them. But the sight of a legally killed child is no less disturbing than the sight of a murdered one,” he wrote.

The article sparked a significant online backlash, with the campaign group Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG) condemning The Atlantic for the article.

“Eight months into the genocide and western media is still manufacturing consent for Zionism,” the group wrote in a post on X on Sunday.

“Defending child murder is egregious; but @TheAtlantic has historically defended imperial bloodshed,” WAWOG added.

Users took to social media to express their frustration over the article, with some questioning the legality of Wood’s claim and calling his choice of words “disgusting.”

“‘A legally killed child’ is a phrase I never imagined I would read in my lifetime,” wrote Lebanese political activist and musician Peter Daou on X.

Others have also called for canceling their subscriptions to The Atlantic.

The backlash comes as Israeli airstrikes killed at least 45 people on Sunday, hitting tents for displaced people in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, with reports that people were “burning alive.”

These attacks came two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, described by the UNRWA as “horrifying.”

According to Gaza’s health ministry, the death toll in Gaza has neared 36,000 people, with the vast majority being children and women.


Bahrain’s youth rep taps into Kennedy with speech to Arab youth at Dubai media forum

Updated 27 May 2024
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Bahrain’s youth rep taps into Kennedy with speech to Arab youth at Dubai media forum

  • Youth ‘can craft a better future for us all,’ says Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa
  • Praises Gulf leaders ‘who are focused on the next generation rather than the next election’

DUBAI: Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s representative for humanitarian work and youth affairs, delivered a sharply defined message to Arab youth and their custodians.

In a speech at the Arab Media Summit, Al-Khalifa echoed the words of former US President John F. Kennedy, saying: “For a better world and a prosperous country, one must ask themselves what I can do for my country rather than what can my country do for me.

“The youth, which make up over 60 percent of our citizens today, is very different than previous generations. They have become the driving force behind certain industries and have taken to adopting certain causes that will craft a better future for us all.

“They are engaged in political and civil societies more than ever before throughout history. They have even managed to become successful in sectors such as journalism, social media in forms of content, podcasts and also showing sharp wit in investments and trade.”

Al-Khalifa, who served in a military academy, said he carries the academy’s message of “in order to serve, you must lead” throughout his life and policies.

 “While challenges can occur, as it did during the COVID pandemic, which affected not only economies but personal lives as well, it was a lesson to be learned. We came out of it, and we are at a better place now.

“Challenges are opportunities. Some folk lost a lot during the pandemic, while others progressed, and the difference between the two is that one seized the opportunity to create and further themselves. while others remained still.”

On the subject of open borders and one being a “global citizen,” Al-Khalifa urged the youth and their elders to continue to strive, travel, experience and learn, but to maintain a “moral direction that connects and centers you to who you are: an Arab.”

He added: “We are an Arab ummah, and what does that mean? It is a legacy, it is victories, accomplishments, values that we have carried and learned from our forefathers that we continue to build on today. To take on Western concepts such as ‘global citizen,’ one can be lost. Our identity is Arab first and foremost.

“Our religion, Islam, urged us to read, learn and engage. And that is what we do with other countries as we both compete and cooperate with them.

“Know who you are and where your roots lie. Some societies have become fragmented due to their abandonment of their values. Nowadays, we have Westerners who are enrolling their children in our schools to keep them centered and away from social and moral confusion.

“While it is valid and important to ride the new wave in terms of technology and progress of open borders to make our countries better, I urge fathers and mothers to continue to stress on an upbringing that focuses identity and positive moral values.

“We want to invest in our youth. It is important that they feel seen, valued, trusted and supported and wanted. If we do that, then their stock will never plummet. They are half of our present and all of our future.”

He concluded his speech by saying how blessed the Gulf is to have leaders “who are focused on the next generation rather than the next election,” and offered a prayer to the lives lost in Gaza.


Arab Media Forum opens in Dubai with focus on youth

Updated 27 May 2024
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Arab Media Forum opens in Dubai with focus on youth

DUBAI: The annual Arab Media Forum launched in Dubai on Monday for a three-day summit involving media leaders and executives from across the region.

This year’s forum is geared toward youth, focusing on arming the next generation of journalists and media professionals with the tools and know-how to thrive in the ever-growing industry in the Arab world.

For the past two decades, the forum has brought together regional and international speakers to discuss the industry’s challenges and impact on Arab societies.

More than 1,000 creative and media students are expected to attend, along with prominent Arab personalities, content creators and global media industry leaders taking part in a range of panel discussions and master classes.

Notable speakers include Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, the king’s representative for humanitarian work and youth affairs in Bahrain; and Dr. Sultan Al-Neyadi, the UAE’s minister of state for youth affairs.

Monday’s schedule includes master classes on Meta, tools for storytelling, interactive media, as well as building personal brands.

Panels and discussions on the opening day cover sports media, the art of directing and redefining storytelling.

Tuesday and Wednesday will feature discussions on key political, economic and technological developments by media personalities, editors in chief, writers and experts from the region and around the world.

The forum will close with an awards ceremony recognizing content creators and journalists in a range of categories.


Over 300 million children a year face sexual abuse online: study

Updated 27 May 2024
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Over 300 million children a year face sexual abuse online: study

  • One in eight of the world’s children have been victims of non-consensual taking, sharing and exposure to sexual images and video
  • Grim trend on the rise with US worst offender, University of Edinburgh’s researchers says

LONDON: More than 300 million children a year are victims of online sexual exploitation and abuse, according to the first global estimate of the scale of the problem published on Monday.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that one in eight of the world’s children have been victims of non-consensual taking, sharing and exposure to sexual images and video in the past 12 months.
That amounts to about 302 million young people, said the university’s Childlight Global Child Safety Institute, which carried out the study.
There have been a similar number of cases of solicitation, such as unwanted sexting and requests for sexual acts by adults and other youths, according to the report.
Offences range from so-called sextortion, where predators demand money from victims to keep images private, to the abuse of AI technology to create deepfake videos and pictures.
The problem is worldwide but the research suggests the United States is a particularly high-risk area, with one in nine men there admitting to online offending against children at some point.
“Child abuse material is so prevalent that files are on average reported to watchdog and policing organizations once every second,” said Childlight chief executive Paul Stanfield.
“This is a global health pandemic that has remained hidden for far too long. It occurs in every country, it’s growing exponentially, and it requires a global response,” he added.
The report comes after UK police warned last month about criminal gangs in West Africa and Southeast Asia targeting British teenagers in sextortion scams online.
Cases — particularly against teenage boys — are soaring worldwide, according to non-governmental organizations and police.
Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) issued an alert to hundreds of thousands of teachers telling them to be aware of the threat their pupils might face.
The scammers often pose as another young person, making contact on social media before moving to encrypted messaging apps and encouraging the victim to share intimate images.
They often make their blackmail demands within an hour of making contact and are motivated by extorting as much money as possible rather than sexual gratification, the NCA said.