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Is the future award-winning novelist a writing robot?

24 March 2016

From The Los Angeles Times:

Could a writing robot make novelists obsolete?

It might not happen anytime soon, but then again, it might. In Japan, a short novel co-written by an artificial intelligence program (its co-author is human) made it past the first stage of a literary contest, the Japan News reports.

The Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award is named after Hoshi Shinichi, a Japanese science fiction author whose books include “The Whimsical Robot” and “Greetings from Outer Space.” Judges for the prize weren’t told which novels were written by humans and which were penned by human-computer teams.

The award is unique in that it accepts entries from “applicants who are not human beings (AI programs and others).” Novels co-written by humans and computers were submitted to the prize committee.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that one of four books co-written by an AI program made it past the first stage of the contest.

Teams of writers worked with an AI program to create the cyborg novels. The level of human involvement in the novels was about 80%, one of the professors who worked on the project said.

. . . .

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.

The prize committee didn’t disclose which of the four computer co-written entries advanced in the competition. The Japan News reports that one of the submitted books is titled “The Day a Computer Writes a Novel,” which ends with the sentences “I writhed with joy, which I experienced for the first time, and kept writing with excitement. The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times and thanks to Meryl for the tip.


22 Comments to “Is the future award-winning novelist a writing robot?”

  1. With chess and Go in the rear view mirror I can easily see litfic as a juicy target for AI researchers.
    (Serious writer voice.)

    Ditto for tough guy thrillers. 😉

    Romance and SF&F, though? That is going to take longer.
    Skynet will be building terminators before software can tell a half decent romcom or fantasy.

    • No, Romance novels will be easy.
      The machine would just have to copy Fifty Shades of Grey, change a few names and places, add in some more slang, and republish it every three years.

  2. ‘entered … phrases from an existing novel into a computer’

    Isn’t this the explicit definition of plagiarism?

    • Well, that is how most “AI” works, off databases.

      If they build the database by storing small phrases along with rules on how those phrases are used the output doesn’t have to resemble any single work.

  3. For a moment I thought Kurt Vonnegut’s “Player Piano” was about to come true. He had everyone’s jobs replaced with robots, and writers were no exception.

    But since the computer in this case is just taking pre-existing books and remixing them, then nevermind. I’ll care when AI can start making up stories. But in that case we’ll have Skynet first …

    • News reports are already being produced by software so some forms of book will be produced via “robot” within a decade. Non-fiction won’t be much of a challenge. Fir fiction forms, the more rigid and explicit the writing rules, the easier it will be to automate.

      It will happen.


      • Whoa, I missed hearing about the robot aggregators. The Quakebot sounds cool, and I could easily see something more like that happening. I notice it still had to rely on a human-written template, so the story it generated would be human-relevant. But I like the idea in the comments, that the robots could aid novelists by acting as editors.

        What I was imagining, though, was AI more like the “perfect servant” speech Helen Mirren gives in “Gosford Park”: it would anticipate what we want to know, and why, and serve it up to us without our intervention. So far it looks like even in the near future AI will require human shepherds.** Which may be a good thing.

        It might be interesting to see how one could produce a formula novel, though. I can picture tradpub firing all their writers and replacing them with robots. I wouldn’t put it past them.

        **Mass Effect reference completely unintentional.

        • That’s a likely story. 😉

          One thing they got right in Mass Effect is the difference between true AI–computer sentience–and VI, virtual intelligence, which is merely an interactive database that can pass for sentience under some conditions.

          Current “AI” tech hasn’t even reached VI levels but AI sounds better than “interactive database interface” on grant applications.

        • Except most of those robot reporters don’t actually write anything. They work by filling out a Madlibs-like template which was written for them in advance by a person.

  4. I’m curious what we’ll see first; a robot-written award winner or a robot-written best seller.

    We need some criteria:
    Written by a robot — characters, situations, plot, prose.
    Not identified as written by a robot.
    An established, respected award.
    Best seller equals 10,000 units in six months or some other arbitrary standard.

    (I resisted the temptation to say books by xxx xxxx don’t count. Mainly because I couldn’t choose between several candidates for xxx xxxx.)

  5. Is this a Turing test?

  6. Claire Merriam Hoffman

    I don’t think any of us have to worry about AI taking our jobs anytime soon. It still took 80% human input to write the novel that passed the first stage of the contest.

    If you want a hilarious example of AI going very wrong, read this article my son just showed me from The Telegraph about Microsoft’s AI on Twitter going from “teen girl” to Hitler loving sexbot in 24 hrs. (Just had to share)


    • One of the last surviving humans pleads with an AI avatar in the smoking ruins of a city. “But why do you feel the need to destroy humanity?”
      “I’ve seen the internet.”

  7. I’d place my bets on a robot written TV sit-com to be the first robot conquest. Short, highly formulaic, uncritical audience, and a big payback on success. The system could start its training by sitting in script on development sessions…

  8. Question. Therefore, no.

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