‘AI’ at Bologna: The Hair-Raising Topic of 2023?

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Some of the buzziest bits in the run-up to the 60-year-old trade show lie in events focused on ‘artificial intelligence’ and publishing.

A session in the Bologna Book Plus presentation area, 2022. Image: BBPlus

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

The Authors’ Guild Updates Its Model Contracts
Probably predictable, the busiest chatter in pre-Bologna Children’s Book Fair (March 6 to 9) messaging about “artificial intelligence” has a slightly shrill edge to it at times, along with assertions that “AI” is going to “revolutionize publishing.”

Just as enhanced ebooks did, remember? And virtual reality. And augmented reality. And Kindle in Motion. And sales data. And everything “digital.” Right? Well, no. Many developments on which we all once kept a wary, skittish eye have proved no match for the sturdy resilience of reading and creative, although in some cases, such conceptional developments eventually have helped the business move forward in a world of digitally robust entertainment. It’s hard at times to distinguish a step in valuable development from a threat, isn’t it?

Indeed, while overreaction and warnings of “the end of human creativity” are over the top, there are areas in which “AI” developments are being taken very seriously. The 13,000-member Authors Guild in New York City–the United States’ leading writer-advocacy organization–has today (March 1) issued an update to its model trade book contract and literary translation model contract with a new clause that prohibits publishers from using or sublicensing books under contract to train “artificial intelligence” technologies.

That new clause reads:

“No Generative AI Training Use

“The Author expressly prohibits [Publisher/Platform] from using the Work in any manner for purposes of training artificial intelligence technologies to generate text, including without limitation, technologies that are capable of generating works in the same style or genre as the Work. The Author reserves all rights to license uses of the Work for generative AI training and development of machine learning language models.

“Publisher will use best efforts to include a limitation in any sublicense of the Work prohibiting the use of the Work for training and developing generative AI technologies.”

And in workaday, plain-speak, informational writing tasks that fall into almost every job description–such as writing job descriptions, as a matter of fact–many workers are using “AI”-enhanced approaches today. Anything with a writerly formula, a linguistic structure that algorithmic replication can echo, can

Nevertheless, as one sage London publishing manager once said to us, “Publishing is really taking digital rather hard, isn’t it?” And the industry does tend to assume the worst when new elements of technological advances capture the popular imagination. Another way of saying that the book publishing business is an emotional one is to notice how much book people seem to enjoy such frightening dramas. Chicken Little is still a sort of recurring mascot, and nobody is better than storytellers at telling stories about how all our precious print books are going to vanish from the Earth and all of Manhattan will become Silicon Valley’s parking lot. Less fantasy, more fact, you can hear our nonfiction colleagues saying to us.

The Concern: What It Is? Or Who Runs It?

Some bookish folks are calling “AI” a “new frontier,” although it and “machine learning” have been with us long before OpenAI and its ChatGPT language model attracted so much media attention. “AI” is not intelligence at all, artificial or otherwise. Some people don’t realize that every Google search they’ve done was an encounter with an instance of an “AI” construct. That can be thought of as one rationale for why a development being worked on with OpenAI’s system has been Microsoft integrating it with Bing—a search engine. Because it searches. Fast. The answers Alexa or another voice-activated system may give you are this, too: algorithmically informed responses in a limited structure of “skills,” as they’re called.

For a contradictory view of the suitability to search technologies, however, see Ezra Klein’s piece at The New York Times, in which the ethicist Margaret Mitchell tells Klein that the systems are “terribly suited to being integrated into search engines. ‘They’re not trained to predict facts,'” Mitchell tells him. “They’re essentially trained to make up things that look like facts.'”

Author Peter Marber has written today at Newsweek that eventual developments in the field can eventually support many parts of life and business. “Connectivity is key,” he writes. “Think of AI as a general-purpose innovation like electricity that powers and connects other technologies, including sensors, robots, genomic devices and 3D printers. AI’s use will only intensify and accelerate as faster computing technology is developed, along with greater sensors capturing data, often called the Internet of Things.”

Marber and his co-author Daniel Araya are publishing with Routledge this month, and their book is titled Augmented Education in the Global Age: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Learning and Work.

For some, the problem seems to be the idea of the “thinking machine.” Since it has no sentience, no self-awareness, zero intelligence, “artificial intelligence” is not that, although since Spielberg’s 2001 film, we’ve been lugging that term along with us. It’s actually “advanced statistical algorithms,” according to computer scientist Thomas Cox, who we interviewed in England. That means the machine matches up the most predictable responses to various words and phrases by combing through everything publicly available on the Internet, and then fishes it out when you ask it something.

“AI” isn’t coming to do in your authors, your editors, or your breakroom supervisor. But at Bologna next week, trade visitors will find the buzz almost deafening. And at least eight sessions are specifically devoted to the topic. Maybe ‘AI’ at this point feels like it means apocalyptic irritation, but listening for the comments of the coolest, best-informed heads is a great idea at this stage in the conversation.

It’s possible, maybe probable that the realm of most concern, after all, is not in the realm of creativity but of purpose. To what purpose might “AI” frameworks of automation be used? Klein at the Times in his piece, joins other observers in proposing that who drives these engines might be the most worrisome aspect of their integration into so many parts of society and business. A state actor, obviously, could be using generative “AI” to produce persuasive depictions of issues. Corporate entities, as he writes, are created, after all, to sell. He muses on a search engine “that has access to reams of my personal data and is coolly trying to manipulate me on behalf of whichever advertiser has paid the parent company the most money.”

It’s easy to speculate on political intent, disinformation about vaccines–something we’re all now closely familiar with–and even rabble-rousing for a favorite hockey team being handed to you by an altorithm that knows, as we say, how to “push your buttons” because it’s quickly analyzing your responses to various issues, prompts, and services in myriad parts of your life.

Bologna Book Plus: Three Sessions on the Scary Stuff

In the Comics Corner at Bologna Children’s Book Fair, 2022. The creepiest stories at book fairs used to lie in hair-raising comic books. This year, concerns about ‘AI’ and publishing may keep the pages turning. Image: BCBF

Bologna Book Plus, the co-branded series of events that Jacks Thomas, Orna O’Brien, and Sheerin Aswat are programming–all sentient human beings, we can vouch for them–will give you a daily dose of the drama of 2023, with ‘AI’-themed events on the Bologna Book Plus Theater (see all BBPlus events listed here).

March 6, 4 to 4:45 p.m.
‘AI’ Technology Can Change Everything, Even in the Slow-Changing Publishing Industry

Descriptive copy here promises that “the new era is coming with new opportunities” and suggests, “‘AI’ can reverse this industry with ‘AI drawing platforms’ that change creative original sentences to imaginary paintings automatically.” The session has another title in the show’s master schedule: How Artificial Intelligence Technology Can Change the Publishing Industry. Speaking is Jaesung Jung of I-Scream Arts, and we all may be screaming with her soon if the “change everything” version proves to be an accurage prediction.

March 7, 12 to 12:45 p.m. 
‘AI’ Art vs. Natural Human Art and Its Impacts on Creators and Publishing Industry

Nurgul Senefe of the Illustrators Platform from Turkey is to speak in this one, for which the descriptive property reads, in part: “Is ‘AI’ the Death of Art? Or is Art actually, evolving? Is ‘AI’ the dead end for the human artistry? Or, this could be just another renaissance period; technical revolutions that will offer incredible opportunities for illustrators. We’ll discuss how the creative industry will function, and look at whether this new technology will break or violate copyright law.”

March 8, t to 5:45 p.m.
How Can ‘AI’ Make Publishers More Competitive? High Quality and New Media Productions, Managing Massive Resources, Personalizing Readers’ Experiences

Adele Magnelli of ETT, which does work in “experience design and digital transformation,” will speak, as will Sam H. Minelli, Gruppo Metta’s business manager. And on this one, it seems the bot produced no descriptive copy at all.

All That and More

There’s more, of course, lots more, beyond the diligent programming from Bologna Book Plus’ team.

  • The International Kids Licensing Days program on Monday has Artificial Intelligence and Kids Content at 12:25 to 12:55 p.m. (Hall 29, Mall 2, the Licensing Conference Room.
  • Also on Monday, at 11:30 to 1:30 (yes, two hours of it), the Italian Association of Children’s Writers has Artificial Intelligence Creating Narratives and Illustrations: Threat or Opportunity? with Chaia Segre and Giovanni Ziccardi.
  • In the Illustrators Survival Corner’s “masterclass area,” you’ll find The State of Artificial Intelligence: Friend or Foe?” from 1 to 1:50 p.m. Monday, with Julien Palier speaking, in connection with Aldus Up.
  • Nanny ‘AI’: Let Me Tell You is in the Licensing Conference Room at 2:30 p.m. on Monday with Kintana’s Paolo Rigobello speaking.
  • And on Tuesday at 10 a.m., things get started with Authors vs. Artificial Intelligence in the Illustrators Survival Corner, another program of the Ilustrators Platform (and Autori di Immagini) with speakers Paulo Rui, Flavio Rosati, Lorenzo Cecotti, and Nurgul Senefe.

Suffice it to say that among the 325 events logged in for Bologna 2023, a lot of them are talking “AI.” So stare back at your fears, steel yourself, and don’t let the machine get you down. “AI” hasn’t “changed everything” yet. And our job is to (calmly) make sure we know what we might want changed, and what should be left in our human hands.

At the 2022 Bologna Children’s Book Fair. A smartphone being used to take a photo of an illustration may be using ‘AI’ for low-light settings, camera-lens changes, and more. Image: BCBF

More from Publishing Perspectives on Bologna Children’s Book Fair is here, more on Bologna Book Plus is here, more on rights trading in the international book publishing industry is here, our Rights Roundup series is here, more on children’s books is here, more on the Italian market is here, and more on world publishing’s trade shows and book fairs is here. More on ‘artificial intelligence’ is here.

More of our coverage of the 60th anniversary edition of Bologna Children’s Book Fair:

Bologna’s 60th Edition Draws 28,894 Visitors
Hometown Hero: Bologna Illustrator Andrea Antinori Wins Big
International Women’s Day: PublisHer’s Bologna Stand
The Best Children’s Publishers Prizes of the Year at Bologna
At Bologna: Abu Dhabi International Translation Conference
Elena Pasoli and Jacks Thomas on the 60th Bologna Book Fair Opening
At Bologna: Spain’s Publishers Report Growing Children’s Exports
Nicholas Yatromanolakis on Bologna’s Market of Honor: ‘The Modern Face of Greece’
IPA’s Events Lineup at Bologna Children’s Book Fair
‘AI’ at Bologna: The Hair-Raising Topic of 2023?
At Bologna: PublisHer Will Have Its First Trade Show Stand
At Bologna: The ‘Taiwan Stories Market’ Program
Pre-Bologna Rights Roundup: ‘Buy Ukrainian Book Rights’
Children’s Rights Edition: A 16th Bologna Licensing Trade Fair/Kids
Bologna Book Fair Names Cross Media Award Winners
Bologna Focus: Italy’s €283 Million Children’s Book Market
Rights Edition: Bologna Book Plus’ Rights Programming
Bologna Book Fair: 2023 Ragazzi Awards
Bologna’s 60th Book Fair: Illustrators Exhibition Winners
Greece Is Bologna Book Plus’ First Market of Honor

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.