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Etgar Keret: AI thinks I wrote a number of novels that don’t exist. So I tried to

I didn’t write ‘The Flashlight’s Journey,’ at least originally. But it’s never too late

This piece originally appeared in Etgar Keret’s newsletter, Alphabet Soup, and was translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.

Can you remember what the first question you ever asked AI was?

Did you ask it what to do about global warming? Or how the universe was created? Perhaps you wanted it to count every freckle on the planet for you? Or were you simply after the ultimate recipe for the best cheesecake ever?

The first question I asked ChatGPT was both predictable and selfish. When I typed in the query, “Who is Etgar Keret?” I was hoping the answer would include some generalized praise of my writing, the kind of profound compliments that only a brilliant super-intelligence could produce. To my surprise, the response was extremely specific and businesslike, detailing my most important works. This was exciting yet also confusing, because these very important works in my oeuvre were ones I’d never heard of. Here’s what ChatGPT told me about me:

Etgar Keret is a well-known Israeli author and screenwriter. He has written a number of books that gained international success. These are a few of them:

Wild Animal (2004): Keret’s first book, containing hundreds of short and very short stories.

The Bag’s Journey (2006): A book of stories about a lost bag’s journey and a man’s journey in its footsteps.

Ashley and the Holes in History (2007): A novel about negotiations between an inventor and his creation.

The Things I’d Rather You Didn’t Know (2008): A story collection depicting the subconscious world of strange talk and strange situations.

The Flashlight’s Journey (2014): A novel depicting the strange and complex times we live in.

The last thing I want to do just when superintelligent beings are about to take control of our world is expose them as unreliable liars, and so, as a submissive gesture to this assertive burst of progress, I’ve decided to cover for AI’s embarrassing glitch and — fashionably late — write the groundbreaking books it claims I already wrote:

Wild Animal

They put him in a cage. He was upset. They realized it wasn’t right. So they took him out and locked themselves in the cage, but he didn’t like that either. Then they came out of the cage and he ate them up. Judith Butler wrote a very important book about it, which I haven’t read, and he ate her up too, but in a good way.

The Bag’s Journey (opening paragraph)

It began with a buckle. The clasp was a little rusty. And one day it simply would not fasten. From that point on, there was a rapid decline. It’s hard to lose a parent, especially when that parent is a top Italian brand worn by international celebrities and you’re nothing but a plain old polyester pouch stuck to the sweaty gut of a bearded, stoned backpacker on a trek in the Far East.

The Things I’d Rather You Didn’t Know (cover blurb)

All the things I’d rather you never knew are collected in this book. A book we’d all prefer that you didn’t read. There’s no need to read between its lines and it would be best if you didn’t read the lines themselves, either, because they’re packed full of facts, thoughts and insights that can only drive us apart. So please, resist the toxic curiosity taking over your body, trying to force you to open the book and read the first paragraph. What do you need that for? We’re having such a great time here, you and I. Why ruin it?

The Flashlight’s Journey

Even a thousand-mile journey starts with a single step. Stephen was a flashlight who desperately wanted to go on a journey. But let’s see you take a step when you’re a flashlight. It’s hard to move when you don’t have feet. What the hell are you supposed to walk on—batteries?

Ashley and the Holes in History (opening paragraph)

It happened soon after that terrible thing. Ashley didn’t know exactly what that thing was. Just that it had destroyed half the world, generated lethal atomic radiation in Japan, and caused the deaths of millions of Jews. It must have been a catastrophe, or a war, or both. There was no way to know. In the spot where a devastating historical era once stood, there was now only a giant hole, and while Ashley stared into the hole, he couldn’t escape the frightening sensation that the hole was staring back into him. “This is going to be a very long evening,” said Ashley. Then he took a deep breath and jumped into the hole.

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