OpenAI has released an API for accessing GPT-3, an AI text generator that’s capable of generating much longer responses than GPT-2. The API is currently in closed beta, and while I’ve requested access, I haven’t gotten it (yet?) But, I learned from Mario Dian’s blog about AI Dungeon, a text-based dungeon game powered by GPT-2 and/or GPT-3. Imagine a text-based adventure game, like Zork–that’s the feel of AI Dungeon, but instead of being programmed behind the scenes by something like ChoiceScript, it’s using GPT-2 (free version) or GPT-3 (paid version) to generate text.
I’m interested in exploring GPT-2 and GPT-3 for fiction generation, so I gave the free version of AI Dungeon a try as I was working on a short piece of flash fiction. I didn’t want AI Dungeon to write a story for me, or even to write parts of a story. I wanted to use it as a tool to spur my own creativity.
In AI Dungeon’s single-player mode, you have a choice of settings such as fantasy, mystery, zombies, etc; choosing “other” lets you prime the AI with a setting of your own. I wanted to work on a retelling of the Black Airts folktale, which is set in an eeevil school of eeevil magic, so I chose “other”.
I started by saving a few details in the “What should the AI remember” section. Then I primed the AI with this text:
You are a student in the school under the mountain. You haven’t seen the sun since the day seven years ago you passed through the school’s doors. You’ve long since washed away the blood you shed to open those doors: not washed clean, but washed away by the blood of a hundred other rites, each worse than the last.
The AI came back with several lines I didn’t like. I kept pressing “try again” until it generated this line:
The Devil has always been with you. He is your teacher and your master. The only thing that separates you from him is time… and death.
I really liked this! I hadn’t planned to put the Devil in the teacher’s role, but this sentence worked so well that I went with it. This turned out to be the only line the AI generated that I would accept “as is”. I followed on with:
Each day begins with a sumptuous feast, if you can conjure it from the worms and scorpions that appear on your plate. The youngest students often go hungry. The weakest become your sacrifices.
I sent this to the engine. After hitting reload a few times, the AI came out with:
Your days pass in a cycle of sacrifice, ritual, and ecstasy.
Not bad. I took this as a starting point for the next paragraph, modified it, and wrote:
Your days pass in a cycle of ritual and sacrifice. You learn, and you fight to be the one that wields the Black Arts, not the one they are wielded against. Always the enchanter, never the sacrifice.
But this morning, your plate is empty.
A quick glance around you shows that your fellow seniors’ plates are bare as well. There are only seven of you who have made it this far. Seven enchanters. You don’t wish to count the sacrifices.
This was a good example of the AI acting as a spur for my own creativity. “Ecstasy” didn’t fit the story, but I liked the emphasis on ritual–which the AI came up with by itself, based on a setting that included “sacrifice” and “rite” but not “ritual”.
The next few texts the AI generated were less on-point. I wound up combining two different generated texts to make the next section. This was the rule for the rest of the story. For example, I combined these two generated texts:
There is a mad scramble for the door. The last student desperate to be the first to reach the open air.
You lunge for the exit. Your friends scramble after you, but it is too late. The Devil swivels around, and his fingers close around the last student’s throat.
into the story paragraph:
There is a mad scramble for the door. Each new enchanter is desperate to be the first to reach the world above. You lunge for the exit with the rest, but too slowly. The Devil swivels around, and his fingers close on your shoulder.
The ending of the story required a change in tense, so I abandoned AI Dungeon to write it.
Conclusion: AI Dungeon as continuous writing prompt generator
I essentially used AI Dungeon’s free mode to help the words come. The generated text was mostly a little off from where I wanted to go with the story, but that worked well for me. Reading something that’s not quite right focused me on what would be right, and helped the words flow.
It felt very much like using a fiction prompt generator, where you keep pressing “refresh” until you find a prompt that sparks something–except in this case, the prompts were useful at the paragraph level, not just the story level, and were more-or-less informed by the earlier part of the story.
As a result, I wrote this 600-word story in about half the time it would usually take me, with much less frustration.
I’m pretty pleased with how the story came out. AI Dungeon’s free, GPT-2 engine (“Griffin”) was a good writing tool for me in this specific situation. Some of the specifics that made this work:
- I knew the story I wanted to tell.
- I picked a setting from folkloric tradition, and AI Dungeon was able to pick up on elements that go with that setting without being told, like “ritual”.
- I wanted to tell a very short, one-scene story, with few characters.
- I wanted to tell it in 2nd person present (as AI Dungeon suggests, it works best in this mode).
Next up: Dragons?
I’d like to try GPT-3 for text generation. I’m on the waitlist for the GPT-3 beta, but failing that I could try AI Dungeon’s paid mode, which uses GPT-3 (their “Dragon” model).
Afterthoughts: Who owns the story that I wrote with AI Dungeon’s help?
I only wound up using a few sentences generated by the software; I mostly used the AI-generated text as starting points that I rewrote. If the AI was a human writing partner, we’d call this my story. If the AI was a traditional fiction prompt generator, we wouldn’t even mention it!
But what rights did I grant AI Dungeon to the stuff I typed into it while interacting with its AI? As far as I can tell, only the rights to display it back to me, but IANAL (I am not a lawyer). Here’s an excerpt from the aidungeon.io TOS as of the day I wrote the story:
“Your Content License Grant. In connection with your use of the Services, you may be able to post, upload, or submit content to be made available through the Services (“Your Content”). In order to operate the Service, we must obtain from you certain license rights in Your Content so that actions we take in operating the Service are not considered legal violations. Accordingly, by using the Service and uploading Your Content, you grant us a license to access, use, host, cache, store, reproduce, transmit, display, publish, distribute, and modify (for technical purposes, e.g., making sure content is viewable on smartphones as well as computers and other devices) Your Content but solely as required to be able to operate and provide the Services. You agree that these rights and licenses are royalty free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide and irrevocable (for so long as Your Content is stored with us), and include a right for us to make Your Content available to, and pass these rights along to, others with whom we have contractual relationships related to the provision of the Services, solely for the purpose of providing such Services, and to otherwise permit access to or disclose Your Content to third parties if we determine such access is necessary to comply with our legal obligations. As part of the foregoing license grant you agree that the other users of the Services shall have the right to comment on and/or tag Your Content and/or to use, publish, display, modify or include a copy of Your Content as part of their own use of the Services; except that the foregoing shall not apply to any of Your Content that you post privately for non-public display on the Services. By posting or submitting Your Content through the Services, you represent and warrant that you have, or have obtained, all rights, licenses, consents, permissions, power and/or authority necessary to grant the rights granted herein for Your Content. You agree that Your Content will not contain material subject to copyright or other proprietary rights, unless you have the necessary permission or are otherwise legally entitled to post the material and to grant us the license described above.”
If I’d let AI Dungeon write an entire story for me, after giving it an intial paragraph, who would own the rights to that story? I’m utterly unqualified to answer this question, but as best as I can tell, it depends on your country.
Katharine Stephens, a partner at the UK firm of says, “In most countries, if no human author can be identified for the work, no copyright will subsist in it and therefore it will fall into the public domain,” but in the UK, computer-generated works for which there is no human author are considered to have been written by the person “by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken.” The answer seems much less clear-cut for the US and Canada.