Lawrence Creaghan

The human touch...can AI do this?

Many of the world’s bestselling authors owe a lot to their editors…and not just for their wordsmithing skills but for their marketing smarts, too.

At this Point in Time → All the President’s Men

The original title of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book about the Watergate scandal was changed from At this Point in Time to All the President’s Men. Why it worked so well is what Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote about in their ground-breaking book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. “The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different,” they said, “but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.” One thing that many people already have in their minds is the “Humpty Dumpty” nursery rhyme.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

In this case, of course, Humpty Dumpty was Richard Nixon, hence All the President’s Men. Bravo!

Tomorrow Is Another Day → Gone With the Wind

Margaret Mitchell’s original title for her story set during the American Civil War was the rather forgettable Tomorrow Is Another Day. The dictionary definition of “gone with the wind” is a “phrase used to describe something that has disappeared, passed, or vanished, permanently or completely” and certainly a title that’s hard to forget. The character originally named ‘Pansy’ was also renamed ‘Scarlett,’ something that everyone...and especially Rhett Butler...should frankly give a damn about.

Catch-18 → Catch-22

Joseph Heller’s editor changed the title of his book to avoid any potential confusion with Mila 18, the bestseller written by Leon Uris...and because he thought it was funnier (shades of “23 skidoo” perhaps). The Catch-22 title was so successful and so memorable that it’s become a catchphrase in its own right. You can look it up in the dictionary: “a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.”

Strangers from Within → Lord of the Flies

William Golding’s first novel was to be called Strangers from Within but with a little editorial guidance it became the classic Lord of the Flies. The Dictionnaire Infernal, describes Beelzebub as a being capable of flying, known as the “Lord of the Flyers” or the “The Lord of the Flies.” A diabolically good title for a story about a group of British boys stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempts at governing themselves.

The Last Man in Europe → 1984

The Last Man in Europe wasn’t commercial enough for George Orwell’s publisher, whose editors suggested they go with 1984, now fully approved by the “Thought Police” as universal shorthand for any dystopian scenario.

Fiesta → The Sun Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway’s original title for his first masterpiece, portraying American and British expatriates travelling along the Camino de Santiago from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín and the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, was mercifully red-flagged by his editors and changed from Fiesta to The Sun Also Rises in the nick of time.

The House of the Faith → Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh’s editors were not inspired by his original title and suggested one that referred back to the mansion in the middle of the English countryside where so much of the story originates and how it revisits (reconsiders) love from different perspectives...and the book was reborn as Brideshead Revisited.

The Kingdom by the Sea → Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov planned to call his most famous work The Kingdom by the Sea before it became the Lolita we know and love. Like the book’s misguided protagonist, Humbert Humbert, Nabokov’s original choice for the title was more than a little gaga.

Oppie → American Prometheus

Co-authors Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin thought that Oppie was the perfect title for their Pulitzer prize-winning biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. Their publisher told them to think again, and with some help they came back with American Prometheus. Back to Trout and Ries…Prometheus also ties into something we have in our minds. Prometheus was, after all, a god of fire in Greek mythology. By adding “American” critical mass was achieved.

AI is definitely effective for getting information together in a readable format once it’s vetted for AI hallucinations: the deviations from external facts, contextual logic or both that the large language models (LLM) powering chatbots sometimes generate. But it’s only the subjective, intuitive human touch that can take it up to the next level. Because we’re conscious, sentient beings, we’re able to do this by factoring in many different angles all at the same time. How else could we have ever known about Humpty Dumpty? AI can’t do this.

“The future of AI is more likely to involve collaboration between humans and machines, where AI augments human capabilities and enables humans to focus on higher-level tasks that require human ingenuity and expertise. It is essential to view AI as a tool that can enhance productivity and facilitate new possibilities rather than as a complete substitute for human involvement.” – Simplilearn, June 5, 2023

“AI can process information billions of times faster than us, enabling it to make decisions quickly. In a purely convergent manner, that makes it many times smarter than us in certain tasks.

“What AI doesn’t have, though, is the synergy of biological intelligence. The human brain uses the multiple parts of the cortex simultaneously, enabling us to process complex tasks. AI can only do one task at a time, meaning it can’t solve the same problems that we can.” – Sanksshep Mahendra, Artificial Intelligence+, June 23, 2023

“My teaching assistants and I became expert at sniffing out AI-generated essays by their flat, featureless feel, the literary equivalent of fluorescent lighting.” – Jessica Riskin, The New York Review of Books, July 18, 2023

“You write to be read. If you generate and publish LLM, pretty soon no one will read you.” – Gary Marcus, Substack, August 16, 2023

“AI poems in the style of William Blake or William Carlos Williams (I’ve seen both) are a lot like movie money: good at first glance, not so good upon close inspection.” – Stephen King, The Atlantic, August 23, 2023

“Curiously, even ChatGPT wrongly claims that Crick and Watson discovered DNA, underlining its unreliability.” – Joe Schwarcz, The Montreal Gazette, January 20, 2024

“A year ago, a rogue A.I. tried to break up my marriage. Did the backlash help make chatbots too boring?. . .In fact, the most common complaint I hear about A.I. chatbots today is that they’re too boring – that their responses are bland and impersonal, that they refuse too many requests and that it’s nearly impossible to get them to weigh in on sensitive or polarizing topics.” – Kevin Roose, The New York Times, February 14, 2024

“A lawyer in Canada is under fire after the artificial intelligence chatbot use she used for legal research created ‘fictitious’ cases, in the latest episode to expose the perils of using untested technologies in the courtroom. . .‘Citing fake cases in court filings and other materials handed up to the court is an abuse of process and is tantamount to making a false statement to the court,’ wrote Justice David Masuhara. ‘Unchecked, it can lead to a miscarriage of justice.’” – The Guardian, February 29, 2024

Adaptation Versus Translation