How plausible sentence generators are changing the bullshit wars

My September column in Locus Magazine.

Cory Doctorow


A woodcut of a gentleman at a writing table, staring down at a sheaf of papers. His head has been replaced with the menacing eye of HAL9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.” The paper is covered in the green ‘code waterfall’ from the Wachowskis’ ‘The Matrix.’ Image: Cryteria (modified) CC BY 3.0

This Friday (September 8) at 10hPT/17hUK, I’m livestreaming “How To Dismantle the Internet” with Intelligence Squared:

On September 12 at 7pm, I’ll be at Toronto’s Another Story Bookshop with my new book The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation:

In my latest Locus Magazine column, “Plausible Sentence Generators,” I describe how I unwittingly came to use — and even be impressed by — an AI chatbot — and what this means for a specialized, highly salient form of writing, namely, “bullshit”:

Here’s what happened: I got stranded at JFK due to heavy weather and an air-traffic control tower fire that locked down every westbound flight on the east coast. The American Airlines agent told me to try going standby the next morning, and advised that if I booked a hotel and saved my taxi receipts, I would get reimbursed when I got home to LA.

But when I got home, the airline’s reps told me they would absolutely not reimburse me, that this was their policy, and they didn’t care that their representative had promised they’d make me whole. This was so frustrating that I decided to take the airline to small claims court: I’m no lawyer, but I know that a contract takes place when an offer is made and accepted, and so I had a contract, and AA was violating it, and stiffing me for over $400.

The problem was that I didn’t know anything about filing a small claim. I’ve been ripped off by lots of large American businesses, but none had pissed me off enough to sue — until American broke its contract with me.

So I googled it. I found a website that gave step-by-step instructions, starting with sending a “final demand” letter to the airline’s business office. They offered to help me write the letter, and so I clicked and I typed and I wrote a pretty stern legal letter.