Frankfurt Book Fair prompts European writers' groups to call for the EU's AI Act to be tough on transparency. Welcome to Self-Publishing News with ALLi News editor Dan Holloway, bringing you the latest in indie publishing news and commentary.
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About the Host
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet, and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, He competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Read the Transcripts to Self-Publishing News: AI Act
Dan Holloway: Hello and welcome to a look back at another week in Self-Publishing News.
It probably hasn't escaped your attention that last week was a big week for conferences and book fairs. So, we had the annual ALLi Self-Publishing Advice Conference to coincide with Frankfurt, and of course, Frankfurt itself.
So, starting with ALLi, our Self-Publishing Advice Conference this year focused on all things mindset.
There were some fabulous panels. I was also lucky enough to be moderating a panel. The panel I was moderating was on accessibility, all things to do with accessibility in literature, whether that's on producing books that are accessible for readers, or how we can make the process of writing, publishing, and managing our own self-publishing business more accessible for writers and others who work in the publishing industry.
By the time this podcast goes out, the live streams will have come down, but you can access all of ALLi's Self-Publishing Advice Conference content from over many years by purchasing a six-month pass or a lifetime pass, and if you aren't already an ALLi member and join, you will get a six-month pass giving you access to all our Self-Publishing Advice Conference content as far back as it goes, for six months.
So, going back to Frankfurt, I'll talk in a moment about AI, because AI, as might be expected, dominated the conference, but I also want to talk about some of the other things that happened there, because it's always good to remember that AI isn't the only thing making the news.
So, obviously global events have been on everyone's mind, including the conference and conference organisers. It was a conference where some publishers pulled out. There was a lot of talk about geopolitics. I'm not going to say too much about that. Suffice to say that it is a reminder that, as writers, we can't necessarily hide from these things, but that we need to face up to the fact that we live in a world where we are part of a larger ecosystem.
That said, that's a really interesting segue into the most interesting keynote speaker at Frankfurt who was Salman Rushdie.
Rushdie, of course, was in the news a lot over the last year or so having been the victim of a terrible attack while actually speaking about his writing, and what's interesting about what he said is that he felt that literature shouldn't be the place for politics. It shouldn't be the place for giving messages.
What he felt was the great thing about literature in his keynote speech is that, as he put it, it is useless. It's an interesting word to use. It's a word that has negative connotations, but he intended it in a really positive sense. The sense that when we write for fiction, in particular, we are transporting people to a place that is far away. When we read, we are taken to a place that has no root in the world around us. I guess you could use the word escapism, but I think what he's trying to convey is that writing is something that, even if it were to serve no other purpose, serves a purpose in itself because of what it is, because of how it transforms our lives, because of the joy and the pleasure it gives simply in the act of reading.
So, it's really interesting to have a conference so overshadowed by global events and the involvement of writing and publishing in global events at the same time as having such a powerful keynote speaker urging us to remember that literature is in a way something separate, something entirely other, and outside of all those concerns.
We can't really talk about Frankfurt though, without talking about AI, and one of the reasons for that is that a group of European writers, publishers, other people from within the industry, took the opportunity of the Frankfurt Book Fair to make a call on the European Parliament for tighter regulation around AI.
This was occasioned by the fact that the so-called AI Act is currently in the process of going through the European Parliament. It's expected to be finalized later in the year. Its basic tenet is transparency, and it has regulations around transparency that seek to be proportionate to the risk posed by different kinds of AI.
So, it divides AI into four categories according to their risk, from no or minimal risk at the bottom end, to mortal peril, or what it calls unacceptable risk, but it does put it like final boss-level AI at the top end.
At that top end, it envisages things like social credit programs, where you are literally followed around by AIs, and your access to participation in society itself is governed by things that the AI perceives you doing in day-to-day life. Predictive policing, this is another one of these existential threats, as it sees it, from AI.
On the other hand, at the very low level, you have tools. Things that we might use, for example, to check our grammar, spam filters in our emails; things that don't really pose a risk in any meaningful sense, as they see it.
What's really interesting to us is how they categorize generative AI. So, the likes of ChatGPT, DALE2, MidJourney, BARD. It places those in the second level up. So, the level above no or minimal risk, what it calls limited risk, and at the moment as proposals stand, that means that those platforms you will need to, if you use those platforms, flag the fact that you have done so. So, that's why we've seen an increase in policy announcements from Amazon, for example.
Also, interestingly those platforms will need to have a list of any copyrighted sources that they've used. So, that's going to be a really interesting one with all the lawsuits going around at the moment about the way that authors are claiming that works of theirs have been used without consent to train these AIs.
The AI platforms are actually going to have to publish a list of all the sources that it's used to train, and that is going to lead, depending on which way these lawsuits go, to some interesting conversations between content creators and the places that have used that content, maybe without full consent and certainly without payment.
So anyway, what publishers and writers’ groups are calling on European Parliament to do is to make sure that when the AI Act comes into force, it really has teeth and really does what it needs to do, and there are lots of really great sounding, it's basically meme-makers heaven. So, to take some quotes, for example, the EU must act now to ensure that generative AI is more transparent for the sake of the book chain and democracy. That's a really interesting set of things there. So, on the one hand, you've got democracy, and on the other hand, you've got the book chain.
It's clear from reading the publisher's statement that one of those two is more important than the other, and it might not be the one that the EU Parliament has currently considered the higher risk.
Again, transparency over inputs to AI is the only way to ensure quality and legitimacy of outputs.
Yeah, that's basically a very updated way of saying garbage in, garbage out. But in terms of transparency, interesting to see how that's going to be taken.
Then finally there, the comment on the fact that this is a stable door that is being closed long after many of the horses have bolted.
So, the statement refers to the many years in which works have been fed into to AI models, without consent, credit or compensation to the authors and publishers. If one was cynical, one would imagine that the loudest voices in industry are talking a lot about, specifically compensation to publishers.
It's really great that writers are up there in this as well. It will be very interesting to see how much writers’ voices are heard in this discussion.
Obviously, many of us as indies are also publishers. Sometimes you get the feeling that the publishing industry uses the word writers in these conversations when it doesn't necessarily mean writers, and so we need our voices to be heard as well.
Actual panel discussions at Frankfurt on the subject of AI, to be honest, it doesn't look like there was a lot said that we couldn't have predicted without necessarily using ChatGPT to write the programs for us.
Lots of things about concerns, lots of things about the fact that AI is going to be everywhere in a few years, we need to be prepared for it. Lots of stuff about rights, lots of stuff about audiobooks and voice narration.
The more seemingly optimistic voices claiming that it will free us to be more human. I've always been nervous about saying that AI isn't going to be able to do things that we consider to be human. It feels like a lot of the arguments about the existence of God back in early-modern to late-modern times, in the sense that the more science pushed into certain areas, the more the argument became more and more defensive.
Yeah, you can explain that, but you can't explain this bit, you can't explain this bit. There's this little bit left that you still can't explain, and it feels like science will never be able to, or robots and artificial stuff will never be able to replicate humans, seems to be one of those similar conversations. It can do this, but there's still something it can't do. There's still something. There's still something. And you wonder eventually whether anyone is going to admit, actually it can do what humans can do and we just have to learn to deal with it.
It's going to be an interesting conversation. I'm sure it will be the main subject for many book conferences in years to come.
I will round off with the final news story from this week, and that is around X.
So X, formerly known as Twitter, has piloted or is piloting a fee-charging scheme for all. So, in New Zealand and Philippines, new accounts who actually want, as they put it, certain content, and by certain content, they mean tweeting, liking, retweeting. You can't say tweeting. Sorry, posting, liking, reposting. So, in other words, anything useful you can do on the platform. Although you can look at people's posts without.
If you want to do any of that useful stuff, you will need to pay a dollar a year for the privilege of doing so, and this is part of the ongoing apparent attempt to crack down on bots, because apparently bots won't be able to figure out a way of paying a dollar a year to do their bottiness.
It will be interesting to see what happens with those pilots, whether they get rolled out more widely, whether there is actually anyone left on X by the time they do.
That's another week in self-publishing. I look forward to speaking to you again next week, goodness knows what we will be talking about then.
Do go and check out the Self-Publishing Advice Conference, considering getting an all-access pass. There's lots and lots of years of fantastic content, you can ignore the panels that I do if you're really sick of hearing my voice, and if you're not, I look forward to catching up with you next week.