IF all the current hype around artificial intelligence (AI) is to be believed, the world may well be moving from its paper-less existence to, perhaps, some ‘human-less’ version. Last month, it was reported that a Miami-based startup had raised $6.5 million in seed funding rounds. The startup is said to be an AI-powered publishing platform that claims to automate editing, proofreading, typesetting, cover designing, and printing processes for authors under the super- vision of a ‘human production manager’. As such, a book that usually takes months to publish can now be released ‘in two weeks’.

News like this sets alarm bells ringing. Speaking from personal experience in taking multiple manuscripts from idea to publication, I can safely say that even if an author submits a fully edited, seemingly ‘ready for publication’ manuscript to a publisher, it is close to impossible to have it ready for distribution in two weeks or even two months, to be honest.

Also, anything that is AI-generated needs to be thoroughly checked, and, at times, massively rewritten to remove wordiness and awkward language. AI may be getting better every day, but solely relying on it to edit, proofread and design covers is a bit of a stretch.

Take, for instance, the programmes meant for grammar-checking as well as proofreading. An AI-powered solution can catch sneaky typos missed in multiple rounds of proofreading, but they also frequently give incorrect suggestions. So, all such prompts have to be either ignored or checked manually in case of doubt. That adds an extra step to the process, which consumes, not saves, time.

Even in designing covers, AI is nowhere near human capabilities, and may even use copyrighted works available online to generate eerily similar artworks. Using AI-generated illustrations and title-cover designs ‘as is’ may land one’s clients in serious legal trouble. Also, on a somewhat closer inspection, art generated by AI looks quite distinct and ‘off’; you may find mismatched elements like Sun in a night-time setting, or a human hand with fingers more than five.

Knowing first-hand how much human intervention is needed even when AI is seemingly doing the work for you, I fear for the quality of both content as well as artwork in the ‘cookie cutter’ books that AI-led platforms produce in abundance.

Hafsa Ahsan
Karachi

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2024

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