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Why Write Your Own Book…

19 January 2013

When an Algorithm Can Do It for You.

From ReadWrite

Phil Parker is unlike any writer you’ve ever met – or read for that matter. That’s because he doesn’t write most of his books. Instead, the trained economist uses sophisticated algorithms that can pen a whole book from start to finish in as little as a few minutes. The secret is sophisticated programming mimicking the thought process behind formulaic writing. It can take years to create these programs, but once completed, new books can be churned out in minutes.”

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Writing By The Numbers

ReadWrite: Tell me about the algorithm you created to auto-write books. 

Phil Parker: The non-fiction algorithms and methodology are not original at all… The whole field is called econometrics. All the algorithms we did was mimic what economists have been doing for decades.

In the 1990s I was working on reports where you had to do a lot of economic analyses and I realized that most of what an economist does is itself extremely formulaic in nature. With the advent of larger hard disks, Windows, RAM, a lot of that process could be reverse engineered and basically characterized by algorithms and be used in an automated fashion. The methodologies are extremely old, just like the methodologies of writing haiku poetry are very old. An Elizabethan sonnet is 14 lines – that is a line of code if you think of it that way. The code is constrained. So all genres, no matter what the genres are, are a form of constrained writing.

Read the rest here:  ReadWrite.

Thoughts?

Julia Barrett

Books in General, The Business of Writing, Writing Tools

6 Comments to “Why Write Your Own Book…”

  1. This is an example of where my 4 industry model of publishing comes in handy. I’ve seen a lot of people freak out over this, but it is really just an advanced example of database packaging. If you step back from all his posturing about genre literature and look at what he really does, it’s not particularly revolutionary.

    He treats the internet as one giant database, runs a few queries on a specific topic and generates a report. If anyone is buying his stuff, they are buying for the data it contains, not to be entertained.

    What he produces doesn’t match the claims he makes at all. He’s never produced any novel that people would mistake for a real person’s work. His programs don’t mimic the way real people write. All of that may be possible some day, but not using this guy’s methodology.

    The database packaging and publishing industry rarely used long-form writing. Sometimes, it didn’t need writers at all. The value of their product was always in gathering information and presenting in a useful fashion. This guy has done something important in that field, but I really wish he wouldn’t muddy the waters with ridiculous claims he can’t back up.

    • Thanks for the information, William. I was indeed wondering if he could actually generate a real live book, or if he was merely talking about Pinocchio.

    • Something very similar has been going on for years in programming. I’ve sat in on probably half a dozen meetings with somebody who wanted to license my client a technology that just spontaneously created programs based on whatever it was you wanted them to do (or games, or whatever.)

      Not a one of ‘em was worth a bright second-year CS major.

  2. Please, sir – may I have the formula for Gone With the Wind?

    This writing thing is taking too long!

    Even in genres where there ARE formulas, these are barely guidelines – and the individual writing is what makes or breaks the story – or the publishing houses wouldn’t need those pesky troublesome writers to produce them.

    And, as ever, anything that is easily done with a formula is then devalued.

    I don’t think real writers should feel threatened – I’m sure this guy doesn’t have a passel of readers breathlessly waiting for his next hot book, waiting to pass on the word of mouth.

  3. Even if they do make a program that can write a decent fiction book, they will never make a program that writes a Joe Vasicek book.

  4. The other thing is that he was using “genre” in a scholarly way. Not “low fiction” or “category fiction.”

    He literally meant things with constrained structural differences. (Traditionally there are only three genres: prose, poetry and drama.)

    There are formulas in many kinds of high fiction as well as some category fiction. There were definitely formulas in the great classic dramas, for instance.

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