Science Fiction Magazines Battle a Flood of Chatbot-Generated Stories

It could be a tale from science fiction itself: a machine that uses artificial intelligence to try to supplant authors working in the genre, turning out story after story without ever hitting writer’s block. And now, it seems, it’s happening in real life.

The editors of three science fiction magazines — Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Asimov’s Science Fiction — said this week that they had been flooded by submissions of works of fiction generated by A.I. chatbots.

“I knew it was coming on down the pike, just not at the rate it hit us,” said Sheree Renée Thomas, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which was founded in 1949.

The deluge has become so unmanageable that Neil Clarke, the editor of Clarkesworld, said that he had stopped accepting submissions until he could get a better handle on the problem.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Clarke said that Clarkesworld, which published its first issue in 2006 and pays 12 cents a word, typically receives about 1,100 submissions a month.

But in just a few weeks this month, the magazine fielded 700 legitimate submissions and 500 machine-written submissions, he said. He said he had been able to spot the chatbot-generated stories by examining certain “traits” in the documents, the writing and the submission process.

Mr. Clarke declined to be more specific, saying he did not want to give those submitting the stories any advantages. The writing is also “bad in spectacular ways,” Mr. Clarke said. “They’re just prompting, dumping, pasting and submitting to a magazine.”

He wrote on Twitter that the submissions were largely “driven by ‘side hustle’ experts making claims of easy money with ChatGPT.”

“It’s not just going to go away on its own, and I don’t have a solution,” Mr. Clarke wrote on his blog. “I’m tinkering with some, but this isn’t a game of whack-a-mole that anyone can ‘win.’ The best we can hope for is to bail enough water to stay afloat. (Like we needed one more thing to bail.)”

The conundrum facing the editors underscores the challenges unleashed by increasingly sophisticated A.I. chatbots like ChatGTP, which have shown that they can write jokes and college essays and attempt medical diagnoses.

Some writers worry that the technology could one day upend the literary world, dethroning the author as the ultimate source of creativity.

But the stories flooding these magazines appear to be more like spam, easily distinguishable, at least for now, from science fiction crafted by writers working alone.

Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, said that several of the chatbot-generated stories she had received all had the same title: “The Last Hope.”

“The people doing this by and large don’t have any real concept of how to tell a story, and neither do any kind of A.I.,” Ms. Williams said on Wednesday. “You don’t have to finish the first sentence to know it’s not going to be a readable story.”

Ms. Thomas said that the people submitting chatbot-generated stories appeared to be spamming magazines that pay for fiction. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction pays up to 12 cents a word, up to 25,000 words.

The A.I.-generated works can be weeded out, Ms. Thomas said, although “it’s just sad that we have to even waste time on it.”

“It does not sound like natural storytelling,” she said. “There are very strange glitches and things that make it obvious that it’s robotic.”

Ms. Thomas said that she had been permanently banning anyone who submitted chatbot-generated work.

“I don’t want to read bot stories,” she said. “I want to read stories that come out of actual imagination and experiences, and their own impulses.”

Mr. Clarke, whose magazine usually publishes six to eight works of original fiction per issue, described his frustrations with chatbot-generated stories in a blog post titled “A Concerning Trend,” and in a Twitter thread.

Elaborating on his concerns in the interview, Mr. Clarke said that chatbot-generated fiction could raise ethical and legal questions, if it ever passed literary muster. He said he did not want to pay “for the work the algorithm did” on stories generated by someone who had entered prompts into an algorithm.

“Who owns that, technically?” Mr. Clarke said. “Right now, we’re still in the early days of this technology, and there are a lot of unanswered questions.”

Ms. Williams said submissions to Asimov’s had jumped from an average of about 750 a month to more than 1,000 this month — almost entirely because of chatbot-generated stories. She said it had been time-consuming to open, read and delete the stories, which are “super pedestrian.”

Ms. Williams said that it was possible for writers to use chatbots as a “playful” part of their fiction, but “right now, it’s not being used that way.”

“It’s not like young authors need to worry about being supplanted now,” Ms. Williams said. “It’s a worry. But it’s got a ways to go, at least. They haven’t become our overlords yet.”

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