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  • Robert Farago

Barney the Dinosaur Vs. NovelAI

To AI or not to AI? That is the question....

NovelAI is a monthly subscription service for AI-assisted authorship, storytelling, virtual companionship, or simply a GPT powered sandbox for your ...” YOUR WHAT?

That’s the search engine listing equivalent of a murder mystery, where a dying victim says “the murderer is… the murderer is…” And dies. So of course I clicked through, looking to discover what a writer wants to do in a GPT-powered sandbox.

The answer is… the answer is… 404 Page Not Found. Just kidding. NovelAI’s home page reveals that its subscription-based service is a sandbox “for your imagination.”

The software developer’s come-on reminds of nothing so much as Barney the Dinosaur’s theme song: “Barney is a dinosaur from our imagination, and when he's tall he's what we call, a dinosaur sensation.” Stick with me here….

I find the lyrics kicking off every Barney episode deeply creepy. From whose imagination did this purple singing, dancing, moralizing, furry-grooming Tyrannosaurus Rex spring?

While I’m sitting out The Pronoun Wars (Revenge of the Them), I’m not comfortable with the song’s implication that I share some sort of collective responsibility for Barney’s existence.

Yes, I once had an interesting conversation with a cat after ingesting a tab of LSD (me not the feline, as far as I know). We sorted out the whole dog vs. cat thing. And… I forgot the answer.

Anyway, I never imagined a talking purple dinosaur. At least not until I saw one. O.K., Vox writer Brian Resnick makes a convincing case that we create our own reality. If so, I have no one to blame but myself for a flesh-eating dinosaur that takes the term “goody two-shoes” to a whole ‘nother level.

An entirely nauseating level. Sure, the program’s not-at-all-hidden messages are Mr. Rogers-level smarmy educational. But Barney is so sickly sweet I get a cavity just thinking about the songs and skits animating the costumed cast: Barney, B.J. - yes that’s his name - Baby Bop and Riff.

Not to mention the saccharine sentiments scripted for the multi-ethnic exploitation of children giving Barney an excuse - if anything other than cash was needed - to pontificate.

On the positive side, Barney inspired me to write a novel, working title Ho Ho! HoHoHoHoHo!

Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t written this darkly comedic roman à clef. I’m busy cranking out a Providence-based Elmore-Leonard-meets-Carl-Hiaasen-style crime series, starting with Reservation Point.

But the day will come when I’ll apply my literary cynicism to the discrepancy between a real-world Barney-like TV and stage show and the sugar-coated product enriching its producers.

“Barney” is an alcoholic. The Director is a furry. The supporting cast of clean-cut kids suffer from a range of personal issues, from bulimia to Tony Harding-level jealousy to their developing sexuality.

I’m not sure of the plot arc - fan kidnapping? - but there are plenty of options and tons of scenes that will write themselves (e.g., Barney’s virtuous creator in a writer’s room as they plot an action - revenge movie).

I could use NovelAI to “write” Ho Ho Ho! Dark Fantasy? Search and replace “Dragons”? No doubt NovelAI would crank-out a serviceable tome at least 10X faster than my old school unassisted keyboard tap-dancing.

And who knows? Maybe the book would be better with AI assistance. But it wouldn’t be mine. It wouldn’t serve as testimony to the brilliance (or lack thereof) of my ideas or, crucially, the process of writing.

Writing without AI-assistance is a bitch. Well, more like one of my many crazy-ass girlfriends. When it’s good, it’s easy, fun, exciting, interesting and exhilarating. Emotionally and spiritually and, sometimes, financially satisfying. When it sucks, it really sucks.

Meanwhile, whatever else I can say about the purple entertainer, he was cut from the same cloth as my work. From my upcoming novel, tearing him to tiny little purple pieces. How great is that?

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