There are a lot of hot takes flying around about the Clarkesworld / ChatGPT AI thing, and it’s making me a little frustrated, clearly, since I’m up at 12:30 a.m. thinking about it, so let me add my hot take to the mix. Hopefully I can clarify some things in the process. Here are ten things:
1) Clarkesworld is not shut down. Clarkesworld is not closed. Please don’t spread either of those pieces of misinformation, which I’ve seen repeated many times in the last day. Clarkesworld is temporarily ‘closed to submissions’ — another way to phrase that is that Clarkesworld has ‘paused submissions.’
2) Pausing submissions is a very reasonable and in fact standard response to a sudden influx of subs, no matter what the cause. It was a sensible move for Clarkesworld and Neil Clarke to halt the deluge while they figure out next steps.
3) If you want to support Clarkesworld in this moment, consider subscribing. My understanding is that they, like many of the magazines, were hit hard by Amazon’s recent policy change that decimated their subscriber base. I recently saw Neil say that only about ten percent of the people who read the magazine subscribe. I can pretty much guarantee you that even before all the AI stuff came down, Neil was both overworked and underpaid. If you’re in a position to subscribe, and even better, convince some of your friends to subscribe too, that’s going to help throw resources his way that will help him as he works on this problem.
4) Details on how you can support, including subscribing, are here: https://clarkesworldmagazine.com/donate/
5) But Mary Anne, isn’t AI a huge problem for magazine editors? Yes, yes it is. But that doesn’t mean they’re just going to give up in despair. This JUST HAPPENED. They’ve barely had time to start assessing the scope of the issue, much less talking about possible fixes. Chill, and in the meantime, support the magazines financially, if that’s possible for you.
6) But Mary Anne, we could fix all of this by making people pay submission fees — no, no we can’t. Even if that would fix the AI issue, and I really don’t think it would, it would also shut out much of the world from submitting (given global exchange rates, the history of economic desolation wrought by colonization, etc.). Magazine editors in our genre have made amazing commitments to internationalization, and to publishing marginalized folks, many of whom are not wealthy.
7) I know some people say, “But what if it’s only a dollar per submission?” Say it with me — *any* amount of money will be a barrier to entry for someone. Probably a lot of someones. If someone’s already choosing between medicine and food for their kids, they’re not going to have a dollar to spare for a story submission. Much less the many story submissions that you usually have to go through before you get to publication. We have an amazing thing in SF/F, with so many magazines that are free to submit to, and a community culture that says “money flows to the writer.” I can’t promise that no editor will ever decide to charge for subs, but in SF/F, they’re not going to make that decision casually.
8.) Some people are also saying we should make people send in typewritten submissions, and I just don’t even know what to say to that. Just no. That is not the world we live in now, and we’re not going back to it.
9) But what’s your solution, Mary Anne? Look, I don’t have one yet. It’s very early days, as I said above. I suspect the real solution will end up being technological — something like an effective filter that catches the bulk of AI submissions, that something like Submittable will implement. There are certainly people working on that kind of thing already, and versions of it already out there. They’ll get better. Maybe augmented by paid slush readers who are skilled at telling AI from human-generated prose?
10) There are probably a host of other technological solutions possible. Maybe an effective, free method for authenticating human writers? I don’t know. But we’re science fiction writers — we can’t be scared of the tech. If tech has created a problem, there’s a good chance tech will offer a solution, and probably a host of them.
I’m putting my faith in the magazine editors and the community to figure this out. Give them some time, don’t despair. If you want to help brainstorm solutions, great — just do it in a thoughtful way, ideally one that doesn’t throw the most impoverished folks under the bus. And let me say it one last time — support the magazines if you can afford to. And if not, a signal boost for your favorite story is always appreciated.
If anyone reading this is wondering who I am to talk about all this, I’ll say firstly that I’m a Clarkesworld author — they published my short story “Communion,” and I was delighted when they did. I’m very invested in Clarkesworld’s continued success — I’d like to submit stories to them for a long, long time.
But probably more relevant, I founded Strange Horizons, which I believe is the longest-running (more than 20 years now) online professional SF/F magazine in the field. It’s won a World Fantasy Award, an Ignyte Award, and been a finalist for at least a dozen Hugo Awards.
And when I and a hardy team of volunteers founded the magazine, many smart and knowledgeable people told us that digital magazines would never make it, that we’d be gone within a year.
It was understandable that they’d think that — we were in the midst of a paradigm shift. And look, here’s another one. Hopefully soon we’ll figure out what ChatGPT and its ilk are actually good for (some of the clever teachers I know have already figured out some promising uses), and also figure out how to mitigate the negative effects.
Strange Horizons is still here. Clarkesworld is too. It may take the editors and staff and community a little time to figure out how to best deal with this new curveball. Hang in there, peeps.
(If you missed Neil’s post about the deluge and are wondering what all this is about, it’s here: http://neil-clarke.com/a-concerning-trend/)