First Thoughts on Collaborating With a Creative Writing AI

Thanks to the folks at Tunguska AI, I’ve been given alpha access to their creative writing AI, Laika. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I had read some raves about its ability to match your own writing style once you train its “brain,” so I was curious what it could do.

My first take-away is that writing with an AI is collaborative experience, not a passive one. In fact, working with Laika is a collaboration that is about 10-20% Laika and 80-90% your own work. In short, if you’re not already a good writer, Laika is going to be a frustrating experience.

This was a bit surprising to me because other creative AIs do pretty much all the work. Music AI like Aiva can output a quality finished work, and art AIs like Dall-E and Midjourney can output some stunning results if you put in the right prompt, but for text—you need to do a lot of work.

Death walking down a road in an empty city by Dall-E:

Death walking down a road in an empty city by Midjourney:

Let’s create a soundtrack for the above images. Here is a down-tempo epic orchestra track by Aiva:

All three of the above items were created with a prompt and the click of a button. The results are, for all intents and purposes, finished works.

Now let’s use the “death walking” prompt with Laika. It’s kind of dark, right? So let’s use Fyodor Dostoyevsky as our textual creative source. He’s plenty depressing. The pink output is from the AI.

Clearly that output would never be mistaken for a professional or even amateur finished product. So if you are an aspiring writer and you are hoping to toss your genius idea into Laika and have it out put an amazing novel, you’ll have to wait quite a while.

To be fair to the folks behind Laika (who are wonderful people, by the way), their intent is not to have Laika output a finished story or novel. As their FAQ points out:

LAIKA is a creativity tool that lets you collaborate with artificial intelligence by providing you with a writing partner you can interact with… LAIKA is a tool, a toy, a partner in crime.

Laika FAQ

So as a writing collaborator, how is Laika? Pretty good, actually. That is, if your expectations are aligned with what the Laika folks outline. If you integrate it into your workflow, the output can be quite good and surprising—in a good way.

Here’s a collaborative example. I uploaded an unpublished VR thriller novel of mine to use as the source “brain” for Laika, and then I started with this line: “It didn’t look good. It didn’t look good at all. The horizon was static, and the sidewalk was patched together with textures right out of Minecraft.” Okay, not the best prose in the world, but it sets the scene. I then clicked the “magic” button (seriously, that’s what they call it), and, well, magic did happen. The next line was very strong. I actually think it’s better than my prompt.

I continued writing and every so often would hit the “magic” button. This is the result, an unedited first draft:

So about 90% of the work is mine and the rest is Laika’s contribution, but the contribution is pretty strong. In fact, as you read the above you can see how I integrated Laika’s idea of there being no life or movement in the setting into my writing. I particularly like the Laika contribution in the final paragraph. The tone shifts from the first person protagonist being confident and a little annoyed to suddenly being unsettled. It’s a nice tone shift heading into an opening page confrontation.

Since Laika is a collaborator and not a button press type of AI, I reset my expectations from “Laika will do the writing for me” to “Laika will help my writing.” The concept of helping writing is broad, hard-to-define, and ultimately very personal. For me, Laika added some new ways of thinking during an ongoing story, and that provides real value. Hitting that magic button and going in an unexpected direction is not to be underestimated.

I need to spend a lot more time with Laika, but I like it. It isn’t remotely what you would expect if you’re a user of Dall-E or Aiva. This is not a push button writing solution. But, for exeprienced writers, Laika is an objective muse that tosses interesting ideas and new directions at you, and in a lot of instances, that’s extremely valuable.

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