Welcoming our new robot author overlords

Ignoring everything they’ve seen throughout the Terminator franchise, a group of  Japanese researchers have come up with a computer that writes short stories… and it’s actually produced a piece of work that got through the first round of a literary competition.

AI-written novel passes literary prize screening

Creative writing as a manufactured commodity – that’s a scary thought, but perhaps it’s inevitable. Companies love automation: feed a few instructions in one end and get a finished product out of the other. It’s always been a popular notion that there are only a handful of stories and that everything written is a variation on those; if that’s true then why can’t a machine just write a half decent story?

And does it even have to be half-decent to sell by the thousands?

Okay, back to the article: the first thing that struck me was that this ‘AI’ needed an awful lot of creative input before it could churn out the story. In fact it seemed to need so much instruction I wondered if it would have been perhaps easier for the programmers to just write the thing themselves. And bravo for getting so far in the competition, but the words of one of the judges were rather telling:

… science fiction novelist Satoshi Hase said: “I was surprised at the work because it was a well-structured novel. But there are still some problems [to overcome] to win the prize, such as character descriptions.”

Okay so, with a lot help, the AI could structure the story, but what makes an absorbing read is the characters. Will a machine ever understand the random complexities of human nature to such an extent that it can create characters that are consistent and yet are still able to  surprise us?

terminator.jpg
‘No, honestly I don’t mind… Just tell me what you didn’t like about it.’

I mean come on: we barely understand ourselves…

But maybe a few decades from now, we won’t need authors or agents or publishers. Maybe we’ll just tell the house computer that we fancy an adventure in Morocco, with a geek for a hero and a platypus for a companion. The villain must look like your secondary school maths teacher and you’d like a happy ending. A few seconds later, you’ll have a freshly-cooked novel tailored to your mood…

Mmm…

Y’know, I’m still not seeing it…

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