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Sci-Fi magazine stops submissions after flood of AI generated stories

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Clarkesworld is a literary journal. It publishes sci-fi, fantasy, including big names. It has served as a launchpad for award-winning writers. Right now, though, Clarkesworld is not accepting new submissions, and that is because they have been deluged by submissions written by artificial intelligence, AI software like ChatGPT. Well, let's bring in editor-in-chief Neil Clarke. Welcome.

NEIL CLARKE: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: When I say you have been deluged by submissions, how many are we talking?

CLARKE: So by the time we closed on the 20, around noon, we had received 700 legitimate submissions and 500 machine-written ones. So a total of 1,200, 500 of which were written by a machine.

KELLY: And this was so far outside the norm that you thought, we can't keep going. We got to just close things down for now.

CLARKE: It was increasing at such a rate that we figured that by the end of the month, we would have double the number of submissions we normally have, and that the rate it had been growing from previous months, we were concerned that we had to do something to stop it.

KELLY: How can you tell? How do you know it's AI?

CLARKE: Well, we haven't been revealing the secret to how we're identifying them, largely because we don't want to help the people who are trying to get past us. But I can tell you that the quality of the stories overall is quite bad. And there was never any danger of any of these being published.

KELLY: (Laughter) Like, how bad? Give me an example.

CLARKE: Worse than most of the people we've seen in 17 years, like, significantly worse.

KELLY: I suppose the next question is, why? Why would it be in someone's interests to have AI write a story and submit to your journal?

CLARKE: It's largely people who are trying to make a quick buck. There's a rise of side hustle culture online and some people who have followings that say, hey, you can make, you know, some quick money with ChatGPT and here's how, and here's a list of magazines you could submit to. And unfortunately, we're on one of those lists or multiple of those lists.

KELLY: Well, not accepting submissions doesn't seem like a promising long-term solution. So what are you looking at? What are you going to do?

CLARKE: Well, we needed to give ourselves some breathing room to deal with the real submissions that had come in so that we could be in touch with those authors, and to figure out how to address the problem. And we don't really have immediate answers. But by going public, we were hoping to shake loose a few ideas from some more knowledgeable experts in the field and, you know, compare notes and figure out what our next step is.

KELLY: I see. So you're crowdsourcing this.

CLARKE: Yeah.

KELLY: Because you can't be the only small literary journal who's dealing with this issue.

CLARKE: Oh, we're not. I've spoken to some other editors, a number of the ones that are maybe more senior, might pay a little bit better, have a higher profile, are always open to submissions were much more likely to end up on those lists and be targeted.

KELLY: I have to note what seems like a little bit of an irony here, which is that you published science fiction. So much of science fiction is about imagining the dystopian. Do you see an irony in this in that you are wrestling with all these submissions that have been submitted to you by robots?

CLARKE: It is not lost on me, that's for sure. I mean, our mascot's a robot. So, you know, we kind of see the humor and why this might have taken on the life it did after our announcement. But the thing is that science fiction is quite often cautionary. And, you know, we don't embrace technology just because it exists. We want to make sure that we're using it right. And there's some significant legal and ethical issues around this technology that we're not ready to accept.

KELLY: Neil Clarke is the editor of Clarkesworld. Many thanks. And good luck.

CLARKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.