How AI Helped a Japanese Author Win a Literary Prize

By Sara Bright

Rie Kudan, a 33-year-old Japanese author, was surprised and delighted when she learned that she had won the 170th Akutagawa Prize, one of the most coveted literary awards in Japan. The prize is given annually to the best work of fiction by a promising new writer. Kudan’s novel “The Tokyo Tower of Sympathy” was praised by the jury as “practically flawless” and “a masterpiece of contemporary literature”.

But what made Kudan’s novel so special? According to her, it was partly thanks to an unusual source: ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence system that can generate text based on prompts or keywords. Kudan said that she used ChatGPT to assist her with about 5% of her novel, which was about 300 pages long. She said that she consulted ChatGPT when she faced problems or doubts with her writing, and sometimes reflected her feelings in the lines of her main character.

“I plan to continue to profit from the use of AI in the writing of my novels, while letting my creativity express itself to the fullest,” Kudan said at a press conference on January 17 in Tokyo.

Kudan’s use of AI sparked controversy and debate among critics and readers. Some praised her for being innovative and daring, while others questioned her for being lazy and unethical. Some also wondered how AI could be used to create original and meaningful works of art.

The Akutagawa Prize committee member Keiichiro Hirano defended Kudan’s use of AI as not a problem. He said that if read carefully, ChatGPT was mentioned in the work as well. He also said that there would be problems with using AI for other purposes in the future, but not with Kudan’s case.

“The story that Rie Kudan’s award-winning work was written using generative AI is misunderstood… If you read it, you will see that the generative AI was mentioned in the work,” he wrote on X, a social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Kudan is not the first artist to use AI for creative writing. Last year, Berlin-based photographer Boris Eldagsen withdrew from the Sony World Photography Awards after revealing his winning entry in the creative photo category was created using ChatGPT. Meanwhile, authors like George R.R. Martin, Jodi Picoult and John Grisham joined a class action lawsuit against OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, last year, saying it used copyrighted work while training its systems to create more human-like responses.

More than 10,000 authors signed an open letter calling on AI industry leaders to obtain consent from authors when using their work to train large language models — and to compensate them fairly when they do.

Kudan’s use of AI raises important questions about how we define creativity and authorship in literature. Is it enough to have talent and skill? Is it necessary to have originality and authenticity? Is it fair to have access and influence over technology? And how do we balance innovation and tradition?

These are some of the questions that Kudan’s novel invites us to ponder as we celebrate her achievement with Akutagawa Prize.