Homer’s spice rack: A metaphor

📚 On Reading in the Age of Generative AI

Why do we think “quite good” is good enough?

Clark Boyd
6 min readJan 25


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O’Connor

Reader, I changed the title of this post soon after I started writing it.

Original title: On Writing in The Age of Generative AI.

Writers are “vain, selfish, and lazy”, as Orwell so memorably put it. The rise of generative AI, which can seemingly create new content from digital air, has brought those very vices into sharper focus.

In the past 24 hours, I have seen the following articles:

  • “I’m a copywriter. I’m pretty sure artificial intelligence is going to take my job” — The Guardian
  • “Stanford students are using generative AI in online exams” — The FT

And I received an invitation to the “AI for Writers Summit”, too.

Next, I sat down to add a little more ink to the reservoir, because I am a writer and I am vain and selfish. Occasionally lazy, too.

You expect better from me — and rightly so.

Instead, I decided to reframe the question.

What would it be like to *read* all of this autocreated content?

The most effective examples of GPT-3 content I have seen would fall into this category:

Content that no-one wants to write, and no-one wants to read.

In other words, the majority of content that is published online today. In fact, much of the content we create is already for machines. Why shouldn’t it be written by them, too?

Therefore, the impact of generative AI could be an acceleration of the sensory deprivation we already feel today, if you’ll pardon the paradox. Two-thirds of Europeans are immersed in ambient noise that is the equivalent of perpetual rainfall.

We can’t hear ourselves think.

Machine-written content and the reading experience



Clark Boyd

Tech/business writer, lecturer (Columbia), and data analyst. >500k views on Medium. I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was.