Thursday, February 27, 2020

Robots Writing

The March 2020 issue of ROMANCE WRITERS REPORT (the magazine of Romance Writers of America) includes an article by Jeannie Lin about artificial intelligence programs writing prose, titled "The Robots Are Coming to Take Our Jobs." I was surprised to learn software that composes written material, including fiction, already exists. No matter how competent they eventually become, they can't quite take over our jobs yet, because (as Lin points out) U.S. copyright law requires that a work to be registered "was created by a human being." That provision, I suppose, leaves open the question of how much input a computer program can have into a work while it can still count as "created by a human being." Lin tested a program called GPT-2, which takes an existing paragraph of text as a model to write original material as a continuation of the sample work. The AI's follow-up to the opening of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE strikes me as barely coherent. On the other hand, the paragraph generated in response to a sample from one of Lin's own books comes out better, and Lin acknowledges, "The style was not unlike my own." The GPT-2, however, as Lin evaluates it, "is very limited. . . only capable of generating a paragraph of text and is unable to move beyond the very narrow confines of the lines provided."

Here's the website for that program:


The site claims its "unsupervised language model. . . generates coherent paragraphs of text, achieves state-of-the-art performance on many language modeling benchmarks, and performs rudimentary reading comprehension, machine translation, question answering, and summarization."

Here's an article about how AI writes content and some ways that technology is already being used—for instance, to produce sports reports for the Associated Press and other news outlets, financial reports, summaries of longer documents, personalized e-mails, and more:

Artificial Intelligence Can Now Write Amazing Content

Computer programs have also written novels, such as an autobiographical account of the AI's cross-country travels:

AI Wrote a Road Trip Novel

It may be reassuring to read that the result is described as "surreal" and not likely to be mistaken for a human-created book.

Nevertheless, there's a National Novel Generation Month (NaNoGenMo) competition in November for programmers trying to produce AI capable of composing novels. According to Lin's article, this challenge "has generated more than four hundred novels," although they're "more intriguing for how than were created than for their content." Here's the website for NaNoGenMo:

National Novel Generation Month

While I have no desire to cede my creative operations to a computer, I've often wished for a program that would take my detailed outline and compose a novel from it. The first-draft stage is the phase of writing I enjoy least; software that would present me with a draft ready to be edited would be a great boon. And apparently that's not an impossible goal, judging from a novel produced in collaboration between human authors and an AI, which advanced beyond the first round in a contest:

AI Novel

According to the article, "The novel was co-written by by Hitoshi Matsubara of Future University Hakodate, his team, and the AI they created. By all accounts, the novel was mostly written by the humans. The L.A. Times reported that there was about 80% human involvement." The process worked this way: “Humans decided the plot and character details of the novel, then entered words and phrases from an existing novel into a computer, which was able to construct a new book using that information.” Sounds like magic!

Still, we're in no danger of losing our jobs to robot authors yet. Aside from the novelty of the concept, I do wonder why we'd need AI-generated fiction on top of the thousands of books each year that already languish unread on Amazon pages, buried in the avalanche of new releases.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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