AI Can’t Handle Known Unknowns

Image via MidJourney

I recently saw an unlaunched product that was able to create in-game conversations for video game developers. You could use it to build a king in a mystical city. Because of GenAI, the conversation is fluid and enjoyable. Every conversation with this king would be different, although the king’s mission — to make you find a magical sword or slay a dragon — would remain the same. In other words, the character has a voice, a personality, and a motivation.

But, in reality, this king is the sum of dozens of hours of work by human creators. The king can’t really make up convincing quests. It can’t really follow the plot or even expand his purview. And, if you just set him loose without training, he’d be about as interesting as a Google query. To get a convincing character, something that can generate unknowns regularly, you have to feed the furnace with real, solid information about kings, queens, mystical cities, magic, and strange beasts.

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In the parlance of military strategy, AI is really good at known knowns. It knows everything you tell it and can coalesce those ideas into something readable and usable. You could even trust it to find unknown unknowns — it can probably give you a very basic plot for a novel based on thousands of other novels but the implicit humanity of the story will be missing. This is why news stories and press releases written by AI need so much editing and fact-checking: the robot will give you what you want and more, and the overflow data could be useful or not. But ultimately, that is for a human to decide.

AI can’t make a convincing king out of whole cloth. The king gets his motivations from humans, his anima from humans. Imbuing the character with humanity is almost impossible for an AI (at least right now). Those are the unknown unknowns.

Why am I talking about this? Because, as we’ve always said, the AI needs the human as much as the human needs the AI. Thread that needle and you and your writing career will be successful as we wander through these rough straights. Ignore it at your peril.

The king generated by that app is convincing. He’ll be great in the game. But to fire all the writers is short-sighted just as it’s short-sighted to fire journalists, marketers, and PR people. The humans and robots need to work together or else the king can never slay the dragon, and we can never pass through this strange new world in which we all find ourselves.

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