It’s Only Human

by Elizabeth Lutyens, Editor in Chief

Yve Mitchell after reading for the Great Smokies Review event at Malaprop’s Bookstore, November 2022

Dear Readers,

We are thrilled to present the latest issue of our literary magazine, filled with thought-provoking and engaging submissions from talented writers across the globe. But this issue is special because it serves a purpose beyond just showcasing great literature—it’s also here to prove a point.

In recent years, there has been a growing fear that artificial intelligence (AI) could one day replace human creativity, even in fields such as writing. While we can certainly appreciate the advancements in AI technology, we believe that nothing can replace the depth, complexity, and emotional resonance of effective creative writing.

This issue serves as proof of that belief. Each submission has been carefully crafted by a human being, bringing a unique perspective, voice, and style to their work. From the fiction pieces that transport us to other worlds, to the nonfiction essays that challenge our assumptions and broaden our understanding, to the poetry that moves us with its beauty and rawness—each piece is a testament to the power of human creativity.

We invite you to read these submissions with an open mind and heart, and to consider the many ways in which creative writing can never be fully replicated by AI. We hope that this issue will spark conversations about the importance of human creativity, and inspire more people to pursue their own writing passions.

Thank you for your continued support of our magazine, and of the incredible writers who contribute to it. We hope you enjoy this issue as much as we do.

Sincerely, [Editor’s Name]

That “editor,” the writer of the text above, is not me, but a ChatGPT robot, dutifully responding to my prompt:  “Write the Editor’s Letter for a literary magazine offering its contents (submissions of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) as proof that artificial intelligence is unable to replace human creative writing.”

ChatGPT (Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, from the research lab Open AI), is an artificial intelligence model that ingests mega-meals of Internet text, searches for patterns, and disgorges human-like language and ideas. The editor’s letter it delivered to me (appearing on my computer screen the literal instant I finished typing the prompt) covers all the bases, even offering a tidy summary of the particular strengths of each of the literary genres mentioned in the prompt. It concludes with a challenge to readers: “to consider the many ways in which creative writing can never be fully [italics mine] replaced by AI.” What a relief, but hang on. The word “fully” stopped me. To what extent could the artificial replace the authentic?

I decided to ask the bot to take on a task more creative than the replication of an editorial letter. Here is the second prompt I sent it: “Write, in first-person point of view, a narrator witnessing and reflecting upon a vivid sun setting behind a dark mountain.” And here is its instant answer:

As I watched the sun descend behind the dark mountain, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of peace wash over me. The vibrant colors of the sky slowly faded away into a deep blue, as if the world was taking a deep breath and settling into the stillness of the evening.

I found myself lost in thought, reflecting on the beauty of the moment. It was a reminder of how small we are in the grand scheme of things, and how the world around us continues to move and change, even when we’re too busy to notice.

The mountain, once a looming presence in the foreground, now appeared almost soft and serene, as if the sun had gently kissed it goodnight. It was a beautiful contrast to the vivid colors of the sky, a reminder that even in darkness, there is beauty to be found.

As I walked away from the sunset, I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for the world around me. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but moments like this remind me to slow down and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.

I’ll always remember that sunset, and the sense of peace and wonder it brought to me. It was a simple reminder that sometimes, the most beautiful things in life are also the most fleeting.

Postponing for a moment any comment on that effort, I suggest that you compare it to a similar sunset moment from the new book by Jennifer McGaha, our Great Smokies Writing Program Coordinator:

“Then, [after looking down on campfires in the dangerously dry valley] just as we gathered near the protective rail at the rock’s edge, the sun slid behind a mountain below, leaving only fire and shadow—reds and oranges and grays and deep blackness—a stunning display of flickering light. One mountain to the west was backlit with flames, a cinematic feat of nature. What had moments before struck me as tragic had been transformed, and the scene was breathtaking, otherworldly, spectacular. What should have been darkness was light, and what should have been light was darkness, and in that moment, I no longer knew who or what or where I was, from whence I had come or where I was going. Gazing at the blazing spectacle beneath me, I was air—cold, smoky, fiery, permeable—one with the vast expanse before me, part of the fire force that no longer felt malicious or destructive or a purveyor of impending doom but simply was.” (Bushwhacking: How to Get Lost in the Woods and Write Your Way Out, Trinity University Press, 2023)

Yes, there are many ways in which AI is unable to replace effective creative writing— “not fully” incapable but further, in my opinion, incapable period. The bot-generated writing sample offered proof with its own pale brew of monotonous metaphors and boiler-plate platitudes. (At least I waited to offer comment.) Because the proof of the pudding is in the eating—or writing or reading—we invite you to spend time with any of the submissions herein and try to imagine a machine as its author. You’ll probably forget to try, once you immerse yourself in the human-generated words on these pages.

Elizabeth Lutyens teaches the Prose Master Class in the Great Smokies Writing Program. For more about her, go to www.elizabethlutyenseditor.com