Would you read this book if a computer wrote it? Would you even know? And why would it matter?
Today's eerily impressive artificial intelligence writing tools present us with a crucial challenge: As writers, do we unthinkingly adopt AI's time-saving advantages or do we stop to weigh what we gain and lose when heeding its siren call? To understand how AI is redefining what it means to write and think, linguist and educator Naomi S. Baron leads us on a journey connecting the dots between human literacy and today's technology. From nineteenth-century lessons in composition, to mathematician Alan Turing's work creating a machine for deciphering war-time messages, to contemporary engines like ChatGPT, Baron gives readers a spirited overview of the emergence of both literacy and AI, and a glimpse of their possible future. As the technology becomes increasingly sophisticated and fluent, it's tempting to take the easy way out and let AI do the work for us. Baron cautions that such efficiency isn't always in our interest. As AI plies us with suggestions or full-blown text, we risk losing not just our technical skills but the power of writing as a springboard for personal reflection and unique expression.
Funny, informed, and conversational, Who Wrote This? urges us as individuals and as communities to make conscious choices about the extent to which we collaborate with AI. The technology is here to stay. Baron shows us how to work with AI and how to spot where it risks diminishing the valuable cognitive and social benefits of being literate.
Prologue: Human Writers Meet the AI Language Sausage Machine
1. The Journey to Literacy
2. Why Humans Write—and Rewrite
3. English Comp and Its Aftermath
4. The Dream of Language Machines
5. The Natural Language Processing Sausage Machine
6. Machine Translation Rises Again
7. Machines Emerge as Authors
8. AI Comes for the Writing Professions
9. The Creative Side of AI
10. AI as Jeeves
11. Human–AI Symbiosis
12. Do We Always Welcome AI?
Coda: Why Human Authorship Matters
Naomi S. Baron is Professor Emerita of Linguistics at American University. Her books include How We Read Now: Strategic Choices for Print, Screen, and Audio (2021), Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World (2015), and Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World (2008).
"There is no question who wrote this—a lesson in itself to the reader. Who but the prolific Naomi S. Baron can bring a linguistic analysis, a philosophical scalpel, and historical breadth to some of the most difficult questions about the very purpose of written language for the future of humanity?"—Maryanne Wolf, author of Reader, Come Home
"Who Wrote This? is unique in bringing together linguistics and AI in a confident and illuminating way, adeptly deconstructing techie accounts in plain English. I've never seen anything like it. A book for anyone professionally or amateurly involved in writing."—David Crystal, author of Internet Linguistics
"Addressing the fluency and fabrications of chatbots based on large language models, Baron dispels the hype and roots AI writing in a long history of efforts to automate thought and its evaluation. Insightful and witty, comprehensive and entertaining."—Frank Pasquale, author of The Black Box Society
"Naomi S. Baron's timely, insightful, and carefully documented account of the history and current state of AI text generation focuses on two essential themes: writers have always depended on technology, and machines will never replace writers."—Dennis Baron, author of You Can't Always Say What You Want
"In this must-read book, Naomi S. Baron takes a broad historical and philosophical perspective on our rapid implementation of AI. With her customary rigor, Baron examines AI's potential, but also explores the unintended consequences of its uncritical adoption."—Adriaan van der Weel, author of Changing Our Textual Minds
"Understanding the difference between AI- and human-written text is part of understanding what it means to be human. This fascinating book shows us how."—Natalia I. Kucirkova, author of Children Reading for Pleasure in the Digital Age
"This timely work interweaves wit and wisdom, laying bare the implications of why authorship matters, and astutely evaluating the gains and losses of partnering with AI. Informed decisions are key, and Baron empowers us to make them."—Lynne Bowker, author of De-mystifying Translation
"If you have ever wondered, in this age of chatbots and other hair-raising challenges posed by AI, where writing came from, where it's going, and who will benefit, Naomi S. Baron's Who Wrote This? offers a timely and incisive response."—Andrea Lunsford, author of Let's Talk
"Authoritative, insightful, and a joy to read, Who Wrote This? is an invaluable source for everyone trying to understand what is happening to our modes of writing, and therefore thinking, in the time of AI."—Anne Mangen, Norwegian Reading Centre, University of Stavanger
"Like a doctor dispensing a terminal diagnosis, Ms. Baron is calm, empathetic and desperate to find a bright side."—Dominic Green, The Wall Street Journal