Popular science fiction publication Clarkesworld Magazine announced on Monday that it had closed all submissions after being inundated with AI-generated short stories.
"Submissions are currently closed. It shouldn't be hard to guess why," the magazine's Twitter account announced.
Clarkesworld has been publishing online since 2006, and has featured works by numerous notable authors. The announcement followed a blog post that Clarkesworld editor Neil Clarke wrote last Wednesday called “A Concerning Trend.” Clarke wrote that since the pandemic, the magazine had been receiving an increase in spam submissions, with resulting bans now being at an all-time high as a result of the uptake of AI chatbots like ChatGPT, the machine-learning-powered chatbot released by OpenAI that quickly became a viral hit.
While Clarke didn’t disclose how he could tell many of the submissions were AI-generated, he was confident in writing on the blog post that he was able to see “very obvious patterns” that gave it away. Clarke created a chart that showed the number of submitters that the magazine has had to ban by month, with February 2023 being disproportionately high, at over 500 people. A year ago, there were around 20 bans in February.
"Prior to late 2022, that was mostly plagiarism. Now it's machine-generated submissions," the magazine's Twitter account stated.
Clarke wrote in his blog that he reached out to editors of other magazines who confirmed that this is a pattern across the board, and not just a unique situation to Clarkesworld. Indeed, due to ChatGPT's free and open access, an entire cottage industry has popped up online of people using the chatbot to make money, and instructional videos and blogs giving tips on how to do so. There are hundreds of e-books on Amazon listing ChatGPT as an author or co-author, Reuters reported, including many books about how to use ChatGPT, written by ChatGPT.
“It does appear to be hitting higher-profile ‘always open’ markets much harder than those with limited submission windows or lower pay rates,” Clarke said on his blog. “This isn’t terribly surprising since the websites and channels that promote ‘write for money’ schemes tend to focus more attention on ‘always open’ markets with higher per-word rates.”
The flood of spam is “largely driven in by ‘side hustle’ experts making claims of easy money with ChatGPT. They are driving this and deserve some of the disdain shown to the AI developers,” the account Tweeted.
“We would like to reopen sometime in the next month and are working under the assumption that we will have to close submissions again. It's going to be a period of trial and error until we come up with something workable that doesn't eliminate groups of legitimate writers from participating,” Clarke told Motherboard.
As chatbots become more advanced, it has become more difficult to identify with certainty whether something is AI-generated or human-written. Teachers, for example, are very worried about students using the chatbot to cheat on assignments and have begun to explicitly ban the chatbot from being used. There are some ChatGPT detectors that have cropped up, such as GPTZero and parent company OpenAI’s own AI classifier. However, even OpenAI said that its classifier is not fully reliable.
“We don't have a solution for the problem. We have some ideas for minimizing it, but the problem isn't going away. Detectors are unreliable. Pay-to-submit sacrifices too many legit authors. Print submissions are not viable for us," the magazine stated on Twitter.
To Clarke, there is no hard and fast solution for this problem, and many proposed solutions hurt potential writers, especially emerging writers in low-income countries and those who rely on free, open submissions to get their work read. Solutions like providing fewer editor contacts and creating geo-blocking regions with high ChatGPT submissions would further limit accessibility for the sake of privacy and security.
“It’s clear that business as usual won’t be sustainable and I worry that this path will lead to an increased number of barriers for new and international authors. Short fiction needs these people,” Clarke wrote. “If the field can’t find a way to address this situation, things will begin to break. Response times will get worse and I don’t even want to think about what will happen to my colleagues that offer feedback on submissions. No, it’s not the death of short fiction (please just stop that nonsense), but it is going to complicate things.”
Update: This article was updated with comment from Neil Clarke.