I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up

I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead. With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I’d often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off. Dean is the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road, when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926, in a jalopy, on their way to Los Angeles. First reports of him came to me through Chad King, who’d shown me a few letters from him written in a New Mexico reform school. I was tremendously interested in the letters because they so naively and sweetly asked Chad to teach him all about Nietzsche and all the wonderful intellectual things that Chad knew. At one point Carlo and I talked about the letters and wondered if we would ever meet the strange Dean Moriarty. This is all far back, when Dean was not the way he is today, when he was a young jailkid shrouded in mystery. Then news came that Dean was out of reform school and was coming to New York for the first time; also there was talk that he had just married a girl called Marylou.

First paragraph of On The Road by Jack Kerouac

How Janet Malcolm Created Her Own Personal Archive

From The Literary Hub:

Stepping into Janet Malcolm’s home overlooking Gramercy Park was like entering an alternate version of New York City, the kind one might have read about in a childhood chapter book. The ceilings were double height, the lighting was warm and soft. The art adorning the walls was attractive, but the pièce de rèsistance was Malcolm’s library.

Books covered the walls of her soaring living room, with a wooden ladder tucked in the corner to offer easy access. The collection was organized by genre: photography, biography, criticism. Books by friends got their own shelf by the door, perhaps to ensure that good company was never far beyond reach.

This was where Malcolm and I met for the first time when, in the waning days of the summer of 2019, she invited me over for tea. I had just completed my own research project on her life and work. Surrounded by  Malcolm’s home library, we discussed my time in her papers.

At one point, Malcolm got up to grab a photograph of her elementary school class at the top of the Empire State Building. She had been telling me about a series of essays she was starting to tinker with, short reflections on old pictures. She was not sure what she wanted to do with them but her editor thought they would make a good collection. In this photograph, the children of P.S. 82 were smiley and windswept, no older than nine or ten. She asked me if I could pick her out of the lineup. Of course I could: small frame, unmistakable grin, third from the left in the front. This is the kind of intimacy built by time spent in an archive.

. . . .

Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory, Malcolm’s final book-length work, which was published posthumously in January 2023. On the surface, these essays are a radical departure from everything else Malcolm wrote over the course of her career: they concern people, places, and items that populated her younger life, rather than subjects from which she could purport to maintain some degree of journalistic remove.

But the choice to root her recollections in printed images was a calculated one. By starting with her own archive, Malcolm created the opportunity to write from a vantage point more akin to that of her earlier work, to keep her readers ever at arm’s length.

These essays are a radical departure from everything else Malcolm wrote over the course of her career: they concern people, places, and items that populated her younger life.

Prior to her death at 86 in 2021, Malcolm had long been a towering figure in American journalism. She had earned a reputation for penning biting criticism and novelistic reporting. Whole issues of the New Yorker were devoted to her deep dives. But despite her robust literary credentials, she was wary of becoming a celebrity in her own right. For much of her storied career, Malcolm seemed to shun any work that might resemble autobiography, or really expose her true self to her audience at all.

After Jeffrey Masson, Sanskrit scholar, psychoanalyst, and the subject of In the Freud Archives, sued Malcolm for libel in 1984, tarnishing her image even though she won the suit, she retreated almost entirely from the public eye. She did not pose for photos. She hardly ever made appearances: for a rare public event in the spring of 2012, she insisted on reading aloud from a pre-written and edited script rather than speak off-the-cuff. She postured in her writing as someone terrifyingly and unapproachably sharp, never missing an opportunity to remind her readers of “the fiction—on which all autobiographical writing is poised—that the person writing and the person being written about are a single seamless entity.”

Her work over the final decade of her life, though, tells a different story. In 2010, she published her first piece hinting at a change of heart, a short essay for the New York Review of Books titled “Thoughts on Autobiography from an Abandoned Autobiography.” At the time, any intimation of a memoir in the works would have taken devoted readers by surprise. There, she’d remarked, “I cannot write about myself as I write about the people I have written about as a journalist. [These people] have posed for me and I have drawn their portraits. No one is dictating to me or posing for me now.” But in the years following the publication of this essay she did find a way to write about herself more directly. The people smiling at the camera in her personal photographs became the ones sitting for her last set of portraits.

It’s hardly coincidental that Malcolm was organizing her own archive around the same time that she began to explore writing about her life. In 2013, she sent her first shipment—59 boxes of assorted detritus—up to New Haven, where they would live at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. To say that Malcolm organized her papers would be a stretch. In some cases, she simply emptied the contents of her filing cabinets into cardboard boxes. But elsewhere, she annotated letters and folders, leaving easter eggs and reminders for any future researcher that she was thinking carefully about what to include in her archive and, more importantly, what to leave out.

In 2020, she sent a second installment of materials, bringing the total number of boxes in her archive to around a hundred. This project punctuated the final decade of her career. As she built this collection during these years, her aversion to writing about herself, or engaging with her own legacy at all, slowly gave way to something closer to ambivalence.It’s hardly coincidental that Malcolm was organizing her own archive around the same time that she began to explore writing about her life.

Malcolm published the first of what would become the Still Pictures essays, “Six Glimpses of the Past,” in the New Yorker in the fall of 2018. A sequence of short reflections on family photos, the piece began with a snapshot of the writer as a little girl wearing t-strap sandals and a polka-dotted bucket hat and beaming at someone beyond the frame. But Malcolm was careful to remind her readers that just because she was sharing this photograph didn’t mean she was getting personal.

Regarding the picture, Malcolm wrote, “I say ‘my’ age, but I don’t think of the child as me. No feeling of identification stirs as I look at her round face and thin arms and her incongruously assertive pose.” The little girl posing in the picture and the woman writing about her were hardly the same person at all. This was the same perspective she employed to write about a family therapy session from the other side of a one-way mirror, or Sylvia Plath through five other biographies of her, only this time there was no denying that she was much closer to the content. The material was brand new, and the perspective was quintessentially Malcolm.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

The Patent Law Origins of Science Fiction

From Patently-O:

Are inventions described in works of science fiction patentable? The answer is usually no, and for good reason. Some of the most beloved fixtures of the genre—time machines, faster-than-light space travel, teleportation, downloading memories, copying a consciousness, etcetera—are impossible or not yet possible when described by the author. This sort of science fiction is not patentable because it cannot logically be enabled or have credible utility when the patent is filed.

For similar reasons, science fiction is rarely cited as prior art against later patent filings. Science fiction can qualify as prior art under § 102(a) as a “printed publication” or as “otherwise available to the public.” It can be especially useful as “obviousness” prior art because, to quote the Federal Circuit, a “reference that does not provide an enabling disclosure for a particular claim limitation may nonetheless furnish the motivation to combine, and be combined with, another reference in which that limitation is enabled.” Raytheon Techs. Corp. v. General Electric Company, 993 F.3d 1374 (2021). However, science fiction is unlikely to be cited during examination. Examiners lack the time and energy to search for on-point science fiction where there is so much more (and better catalogued) prior art among patents and scientific publications. Applicants, for their part, are not required to disclose prior art that is not material to patentability or that is cumulative of other prior art they’ve already provided. 

It may surprise you, then, to learn that the genre of science fiction is deeply indebted to patent law and patent theory. In our new paper, The Patent Law Origins of Science Fiction, available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4291271, we show that science fiction as a literary form was originally premised on the idea that works of science fiction are like patents. They disclose useful technical information that can give readers a “stimulus” to perfect the invention and figure out how to make it work.

The person responsible for this comparison was the so-called “father” of science fiction, Hugo Gernsback. He started the first exclusively-science fiction magazine, called Amazing Stories, in 1926. The Hugo awards, given to the best works of science fiction and fantasy writing, are named after him.

Gernsback was also an inventor and serious scientific thinker in his own right. He died with over thirty patents to his name. In the early 1900s, he started a radio and electronics equipment company in New York. To support his business, he initially published catalogs for mail-order electrical components, but the catalogs soon morphed into full-sized magazines with titles like “Modern Electrics, marketed to inventors and amateur “tinkerers.”

. . . .

At first, Gernsback started publishing science fiction stories—which he then called “scientifiction”—to fill space in his electrical magazines. These stories were sometimes little more than a few paragraphs of exposition about some speculative new device that might be used in the future, plugged into a generic adventure plot. For example, one story featured a genius from the future using (what we now call) “radar” to track down a Martian who had kidnapped the protagonist’s love interest in a Space Flyer. Despite the fictional elements, science and scientific plausibility were still all-important. Gernsback was fond of saying the recipe for good scientifiction was 25% science and 75% literature.

Readers loved it, and Amazing Stories was born. Gernsback knew he was on to something, and he frequently published editorials expounding on the virtues of scientifiction. These editorials, along with his unpublished manuscripts, reveal Gernsback’s theory that a good science fiction story is like a patent, but a much more “palatable” read. Although he did not articulate it in precisely the same terms, Gernsback’s justification for scientifiction echoes the language of patent law’s disclosure theory. Scientifiction, he wrote, provides both knowledge and “stimulus.”[2] It inspires “seriously-minded” readers to learn about science and technology, and it supplies the “inventor or inventor-to-be who reads the story” with “an incentive” to “realiz[e] the author’s ambition” by perfecting the author’s science fictional inventions in the real world. Gernsback often drew the analogy to patents quite explicitly. The science fiction author, in his framework, was “an original inventor,” like the named inventor on a patent. The readers who got the author’s invention to work were like “manufacturers” who buy patents and commercialize the inventions therein “with but a few changes.” They were just there to profit from the author’s grand ambitions.

Over time, Gernsback developed a crazy idea. If science fiction authors are “inventors” who inspire others to reduce their inventions to practice, then shouldn’t science fiction authors be able to get patents for their prescient descriptions of future inventions? And shouldn’t science fiction serve as prior art against other peoples’ patents? In 1952, just after Congress had modernized the Patent Act, Gernsback made these ideas public. In a speech he gave to the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, he proposed that Congress should reform patent law (again) to give science fiction authors the ability to apply for “Provisional Patents.”

. . . .

His Provisional Patents would have given science fiction authors thirty extra years in which to demonstrate their science fictional inventions worked. If they could do so, the Provisional Patent would be converted into a normal patent, presumably in force for the full patent term (which at that time meant 17 years). Otherwise, it would be abandoned. This proposal was not adopted and, we presume, was never seriously considered.

In the same speech, Gernsback also proposed that authors and publishers should start identifying works of science fiction that contained “new and feasible” inventions, so that they could send these selected works to the patent office. Gernsback’s hope was that the patent office would be deluged with science fiction and have no choice but to start reviewing and citing science fiction more often as prior art. This idea had more grounding in current law than Gernsback’s Provisional Patents, but it was not adopted either. Mechanisms for getting prior art to the patent office have certainly improved since Gernsback’s time. But we still don’t send the patent office curated collections of science fiction.

Gernsback’s ideas were iconoclastic, and his proposal to make Provisional Patents available for inventions that are not yet reduced to practice is deeply troubling from a policy perspective. Science fiction authors who make reasonably accurate predictions about future technological developments would gain the ability to sue the very people who figure out how to make those technologies. Imagine the effect on the computer industry if a science fiction author had been able to reserve the right to patent a supercomputer in the early 1920s, and then converted this into a full patent in the 1950s…

But taking Gernsback’s ideas seriously generates some surprising insights. Science fiction—of the type that Gernsback and “hard sf” writers like Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov wrote—has more in common with patents than it might seem. Publishing a work of science fiction confers no exclusive rights on the inventions it contains. But, like patents, works of science fiction are documents that disclose potentially useful information about science and technology. Like patents, science fiction stories can describe inventions that have not literally been reduced to practice; they can leave many details to skilled artisans to figure out. Both science fiction readers and patent examiners are also supposed to suspend disbelief, presuming the inventions described on the page are based on plausible scientific principles. See, e.g. In re Cortright, 165 F.3d 1353 (1999). If we think patents are an important part of the innovation ecosystem because they disseminate useful technological teachings and insights, then science fiction might be too.

How often science fiction influences innovation is an extremely interesting question. Ironically, the patent record itself is a great source of data with which to test Gernsback’s theories. In fact, one of Gernsback’s more questionable assumptions was that profit-hungry readers are “continuously” filing patents on inventions they learned about in science fiction. They remember the idea, “lard it with a few of [their] own, patent it and start a new billion dollar industry on it.” Regardless of whether that is true, if someone is inspired by science fiction to make an invention in the real world, then we should sometimes see evidence of this in the patent record.

. . . .

Formal prior art citations to science fiction are rare for the reasons we said above. But we can find circumstantial evidence of science fiction’s influence by searching patents. For example, specifications sometimes reference science fiction in the body, even if they don’t formally cite to science fiction as prior art. Search the patent record for “Asimov, “Three Laws of Robotics,” or “Star Trek,” and you’ll see what we mean. We can also find more direct evidence of influence—situations where inventors expressly state that they got their inspiration from science fiction. For this, though, we usually have to look outside the patent record. Inventors’ autobiographies, interviews, speeches, and marketing efforts can reveal clues. For example, Neil Stephenson’s 1992 book Snow Crash features a virtual world called the Metaverse. Facebook and other tech companies are making their own virtual worlds and calling them by the same name. That, along with direct statements from employees that Stephenson is “our inspiration,” helps support that there was some degree of influence. Steven Levy, Neal Stephenson Named the Metaverse. Now, He’s Building It, Wired (Sept. 16, 2022).

This is surely sometimes independent invention, the result of multiple inventors responding to the same technological developments and contemporary trends. Mark A. Lemley, The Myth of the Sole Inventor, 110 Mich. L. Rev. 709 (2012). But sometimes it is not. Despite all the legal and practical barriers, science fiction appears in the patent record. It was important enough to play some small part in the journey that culminated in the invention. At the end of the day, there is only one explanation for this: Some inventors read science fiction, and some science fiction matters to those people. Its ideas inspire them in ways that traditional sources (including patents) do not. Gernsback put it best. Science fiction “fires the reader’s imagination more perhaps than anything else of which we know,” leaving readers “deeply thrilled[,]” as their “imagination is fired to the nth degree[.]” Few people would ever say that about reading patents.

Even if science fiction does not directly influence someone to make the precise inventions it discloses, it can impact peoples’ career choices, inspiring them to go into science or pursue a general line of inquiry. It can inspire them to go to space. Kristen Houser, Science fiction doesn’t predict the future. It inspires it, BigThink (Oct. 23, 2021). Arthur C. Clarke went so far as to say that “by writing about space flight we have brought its realization nearer by decades.” In Clarke’s view, science fiction both imparted useful technical information and acclimated readers to the possibility of space flight, priming them to support and accept the novel technology when it arrived.

Link to the rest at Patently-O and thanks to C. for the tip.

Comment Spam Report

PG just deleted five spam comments on TPV.

If you question whether they were really spam, one was headlined:

HOW I GOT MY HUSBAND BACK WITH THE HELP OF DR NAKARA

and another had the following subject:

สล็อตเว็บตรง พวกผม

Does Anyone Want to Come to My Book Signing? Please!

From The Wall Street Journal:

Years after she started writing her debut novel, Chelsea Banning settled into Pretty Good Books in Ashtabula, Ohio, on a Saturday in early December for her first author signing.

She waited with neatly stacked paperback copies of her book, “Of Crowns and Legends”—which she calls a King Arthur reimagining that takes place 20 years after his death. She had props, including a crown, a little statue of a knight kneeling and holding a pen, and pictures of friends dressed as her characters, in medieval garb.

The 33-year-old librarian in Girard, Ohio, whose real name is Chelsea Vandergrift Podgorny, was optimistic. Friends in the area said they wanted to stop by and have their books signed, and 37 people responded to the Facebook event listing that they would attend.

During her three-hour signing, just two people showed up.

The next morning, Ms. Banning tweeted to her roughly 100 followers that she was “pretty bummed about it…upset, honestly, and a little embarrassed.” She felt a little sheepish after writing the tweet and planned to remove it, she recalls in an interview. She didn’t want the no-shows to feel bad.

Then, Henry Winkler chimed in. Yes, The Fonz himself.

“That is the beginning,” the star wrote, retweeting her post to his one million followers. “Then word gets out and they come!”

She isn’t sure how, but her online confession had gone viral and was ricocheting around the arts and literary world. Thousands were retweeting it, including big-name authors. She had exposed a truth of the publishing business. Lonely events are a rite of passage for authors.

“Join the club,” Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and many other books, responded. “I did a signing to which Nobody came, except a guy who wanted to buy some Scotch tape and thought I was the help. :)”

Stephen King—the king of horror himself—jumped in, writing, “Dear Chelsea Banning: When you do your next signing, let us know. We’ll let EVERYBODY know.”

In an interview, Mr. Winkler says Ms. Banning’s tweet struck a familiar chord. In 2003, he held an event at a book store promoting the first installment in the Hank Zipzer children’s book series he wrote with Lin Oliver. It was billed as a reading and a chance to meet Henry Winkler. Six people came. “It doesn’t get easier,” Mr. Winkler says.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Díaz says one person, a friend, attended his first reading as a published author. “I did a reading for my friend and the embarrassed booksellers and called it a win,” he says by email.

Jodi Picoult, who has sold millions of copies of her books, says once, at a signing at her hometown bookstore in Hanover, N.H., she sat alone until a wandering patron needed help finding the bathroom.

Paul Bogaards, who ran publicity campaigns for 30 years at publisher Alfred A. Knopf and now runs his own company, says the in-store author appearance is, in large part, a holdover from a time when they generated local-news coverage. As local news has shrunk, filling seats is harder.

This hasn’t diminished the author’s desire to pitch books in the flesh, Mr. Bogaards says in an email, “if only for one person eating a Twix bar in the front row.”

The same day Ms. Banning signed books to a sparse audience in Ohio, Jon Land was at the Rhode Island Author Expo promoting his new thriller, “Blood Moon,” which he wrote with Heather Graham.

More than 100 area authors spread across a hotel ballroom, waiting at tables laden with books, and lures to entice browsers.

Mr. Land, who has written dozens of books, deployed one of his regular sales tools—free candy. The children come over and take some, he says, and parents feel guilty and buy a book. But the best way to get customers to engage at a signing, he advises, is to bring a child yourself.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Quite a long time ago, 50,000 years BA (Before Amazon), while living in a suburb of a mid-sized city, PG attended some book signings featuring popular authors that drew a large crowd.

He doesn’t remember exactly how many channels his television could tune in at that time, but he thinks he could have counted them on one hand. It was between seasons for the local high school team, so a book signing by a famous author was the only thing happening other than reruns of The Cosby Show.

In the somewhat distant past, PG participated in some book signings. Even back when, flop-sweat is not a comfortable experience.

If an author’s time is worth anything, forgetting about book signings is the only rational decision.

Dark Horse AI Gets Passing Grade in Law Exam

From Futurism:

An artificial intelligence dubbed Claude, developed by AI research firm Anthropic, got a “marginal pass” on a recent blindly graded law and economics exam at George Mason University, according to a recent blog post by economics professor Alex Tabarrok.

It’s yet another warning shot that AI is experiencing a moment of explosive growth in capability — and it’s not just OpenAI’s ChatGPT that we have to worry about.

. . . .

Claude is already impressing academics with its ability to come up with strikingly thorough answers to complex prompts.

For one law exam question highlighted by Tabarrok, Claude was able to generate believable recommendations on how to change intellectual property laws.

“Overall, the goal should be to make IP laws less restrictive and make more works available to the public sooner,” the AI concluded. “But it is important to still provide some incentives and compensation to creators for a limited period.”

Overall, Tabarrok found that “Claude is a competitor to GPT-3 and in my view an improvement,” because it was able to generate a “credible response” that’s “better than many human responses.”

To be fair, others were less impressed with Claude’s efforts.

“To be honest, this looks more like Claude simply consumed and puked up a McKinsey report,” the Financial Times wrote in a piece on Tabarrok’s findings.

While Claude and ChatGPT are similar in terms of user experience, the models were trained in different ways, especially when it comes to ensuring that things don’t go out of hand.

Claude makes use of “constitutional AI,” as described in a yet-to-be-peer-reviewed paper shared by Anthropic researchers last month.

“We experiment with methods for training a harmless AI assistant through self-improvement, without any human labels identifying harmful outputs,” they wrote. “The process involves both a supervised learning and a reinforcement learning phase.”

“Often, language models trained to be ‘harmless’ have a tendency to become useless in the face of adversarial questions,” the company wrote in a December tweet. “Constitutional AI lets them respond to questions using a simple set of principles as a guide.”

Link to the rest at Futurism

Dark spruce forest frowned on either side of the frozen waterway

Dark spruce forest frowned on either side of the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness — a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.

First paragraph of White Fang by Jack London

I am a sick man. … I am a spiteful man

I am a sick man. … I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can’t explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot “pay out” the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well then let it hurt even worse!

First paragraph of Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

CNET’s Article-Writing AI Is Already Publishing Very Dumb Errors

From Futurism:

Last week, we reported that the prominent technology news site CNET had been quietly publishing articles generated by an unspecified “AI engine.”

The news sparked outrage. Critics pointed out that the experiment felt like an attempt to eliminate work for entry-level writers, and that the accuracy of current-generation AI text generators is notoriously poor. The fact that CNET never publicly announced the program, and that the disclosure that the posts were bot-written was hidden away behind a human-sounding byline — “CNET Money Staff” — made it feel as though the outlet was trying to camouflage the provocative initiative from scrutiny.

After the outcry, CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo acknowledged the AI-written articles in a post that celebrated CNET‘s reputation for “being transparent.”

Without acknowledging the criticism, Guglielmo wrote that the publication was changing the byline on its AI-generated articles from “CNET Money Staff” to simply “CNET Money,” as well as making the disclosure more prominent.

Furthermore, she promised, every story published under the program had been “reviewed, fact-checked and edited by an editor with topical expertise before we hit publish.”

That may well be the case. But we couldn’t help but notice that one of the very same AI-generated articles that Guglielmo highlighted in her post makes a series of boneheaded errors that drag the concept of replacing human writers with AI down to earth.

Take this section in the article, which is a basic explainer about compound interest (emphasis ours):

“To calculate compound interest, use the following formula:

Initial balance (1+ interest rate / number of compounding periods) ^ number of compoundings per period x number of periods 

For example, if you deposit $10,000 into a savings account that earns 3% interest compounding annually, you’ll earn $10,300 at the end of the first year.

It sounds authoritative, but it’s wrong. In reality, of course, the person the AI is describing would earn only $300 over the first year. It’s true that the total value of their principal plus their interest would total $10,300, but that’s very different from earnings — the principal is money that the investor had already accumulated prior to putting it in an interest-bearing account.

“It is simply not correct, or common practice, to say that you have ‘earned’ both the principal sum and the interest,” Michael Dowling, an associate dean and professor of finance at Dublin College University Business School, told us of the AI-generated article.

It’s a dumb error, and one that many financially literate people would have the common sense not to take at face value. But then again, the article is written at a level so basic that it would only really be of interest to those with extremely low information about personal finance in the first place, so it seems to run the risk of providing wildly unrealistic expectations — claiming you could earn $10,300 in a year on a $10,000 investment — to the exact readers who don’t know enough to be skeptical.

Another error in the article involves the AI’s description of how loans work. Here’s what it wrote (again, emphasis ours):

“With mortgages, car loans and personal loans, interest is usually calculated in simple terms.

For example, if you take out a car loan for $25,000, and your interest rate is 4%, you’ll pay a flat $1,000 in interest per year.”

Again, the AI is writing with the panache of a knowledgeable financial advisor. But as a human expert would know, it’s making another ignorant mistake.

What it’s bungling this time is that the way mortgages and auto loans are typically structured, the borrower doesn’t pay a flat amount of interest per year, or even per monthly payment. Instead, on each successive payment they owe interest only on the remaining balance. That means that toward the beginning of the loan, the borrower pays more interest and less principal, which gradually reverses as the payments continue.

It’s easy to illustrate the error by entering the details from the CNET AI’s hypothetical scenario — a $25,000 loan with an interest rate of 4 percent — into an auto loan amortization calculator. The result? Contrary to what the AI claimed, there’s never a year when the borrower will pay a full $1,000, since they start chipping away at the balance on their first payment.

CNET‘s AI is “absolutely” wrong in how it described loan payments, Dowling said.

“That’s just simply not the case that it would be $1,000 per year in interest,” he said, “as the loan balance is being reduced every year and you only pay interest on the outstanding balance.”

The problem with this description isn’t just that it’s wrong. It’s that the AI is eliding an important reality about many loans: that if you pay them down faster, you end up paying less interest in the future. In other words, it’s feeding terrible financial advice directly to people trying to improve their grasp of it.

Link to the rest at Futurism

PG says somebody (not PG) is going to start a website that features errors made by AI systems.

PG also says that AI is roughly where airplanes were when, on December 17, 1903, the Wright Flyer traveled 120 feet in 12 seconds at speed of 6.8 miles per hour at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Fifteen years later, a British Sopwith Dragon flew at a speed of 149 miles per hour. Twenty-two years after that, the Lockheed P-38 flew at 400 mph. Late in World War II, a Messerschmitt Me.262 reached a sustained top speed of 540 mph.

PG says AI development isn’t like airplane development. It’s going to be much, much faster.

Largest-ever study of journal editors highlights ‘self-publication’ and gender gap

From Nature:

The gender gap among senior journal editors is bigger than many people thought, and some editors publish a surprising number of their own papers in the journals that they edit, finds the first study to look at these issues over time across multiple disciplines.

“Although we expected women to be under-represented, we certainly didn’t expect the percentage of women on editorial boards to be as low as 14% for editors and 8% for editors-in-chief,” says co-author Bedoor AlShebli, a data scientist at New York University (NYU) Abu Dhabi. By comparison, women account for 26% of all scientific authors (see ‘Gender gap’).

AlShebli and her colleagues analysed the gender and publication habits of more than 80,000 editors at 1,100 Elsevier journals across 15 disciplines and five decades. The work was published on 16 January in Nature Human Behaviour1.

The team found clear evidence of systemic, and persistent, gender inequality in editorial boards across all research disciplines except sociology, says co-author Talal Rahwan, a computer scientist at NYU Abu Dhabi. Although career length, and the attrition of women from academia, explains the gap among editors, it could not account for the gap among editors-in-chief. “This suggests that other factors, such as bias, might be at play,” Rahwan says. Over the past 40 years, the gap between the proportion of women in science and the proportion of female editors has remained mostly stable.

Paper trail

The rates of self-publication — editors publishing their own research in journals that they edit — also raised some eyebrows among the authors, says AlShebli. The study found that one-quarter of all editors published at least 10% of their papers in journals that they edit. For some, the rates were even higher: 12% of editors publish at least one-fifth, and 6% publish at least one-third, of their papers in their own journals (see ‘Self-publication’). A small number published as much as two-thirds of their career output in their own journals. There was no significant difference in the rates of self-publication between male and female editors, but the increase in this rate that occurred immediately after becoming editor was higher for men than for women.

. . . .

Laura Dormer, editor-in-chief of the journal Learned Publishing, says that it isn’t surprising, or necessarily a problem, that editors often publish in their own journals, especially in niche fields. “Generally, researchers will aim to publish in the most impactful journal they can — in terms of actual journal impact factor, and in terms of reaching their peers,” she says. “However, it’s important for journals to have ethical procedures in place that preclude editors from being involved in the handling of their work at any stage of the submission process, and this should be more transparent.”

The gender gap among editors is a trickier problem, but one that is an important focus for many publishers, says Dormer. A variety of approaches are being taken. Dormer suggests that journals should recruit more early-career researchers as board members, because these scientists tend to be more diverse as a group. “This will be beneficial for their own career development, and beneficial for the journal in terms of widening its scope,” she says.

Link to the rest at Nature

An A.I. Translation Tool Can Help Save Dying Languages. But at What Cost?

From Slate:

Sanjib Chaudhary chanced upon StoryWeaver, a multilingual children’s storytelling platform, while searching for books he could read to his 7-year-old daughter. Chaudhary’s mother tongue is Kochila Tharu, a language with about 250,000 speakers in eastern Nepal. (Nepali, Nepal’s official language, has 16 million speakers.) Languages with a relatively small number of speakers, like Kochila Tharu, do not have enough digitized material for linguistic communities to thrive—no Google Translate, no film or television subtitles, no online newspapers. In industry parlance, these languages are “underserved” and “underresourced.”

This is where StoryWeaver comes in. Founded by the Indian education nonprofit Pratham Books, StoryWeaver currently hosts more than 50,000 open-licensed stories across reading levels in more than 300 languages from around the world. Users can explore the repository by reading level, language, and theme, and once they select a story, they can click through illustrated slides (each as if it were the page of a book) in the selected language (there are also bilingual options, where two languages are shown side-by-side, as well as download and read-along audio options). “Smile Please,” a short tale about a fawn’s ramblings in the forest, is currently the “most read” story—originally written in Hindi for beginners, it has since been translated into 147 languages and read 281,000 times.

A majority of the languages represented on the platform are from Africa and Asia, and many are Indigenous, in danger of losing speakers in a world of almost complete English hegemony. Chaudhary’s experience as a parent reflects this tension. “The problem with children is that they prefer to read storybooks in English rather than in their own language because English is much, much easier. With Kochila Tharu, the spelling is difficult, the words are difficult, and you know, they’re exposed to English all the time, in schools, on television,” Chaudhary said

Artificial intelligence-assisted translation tools like StoryWeaver can bring more languages into conversation with one another—but the tech is still new, and it depends on data that only speakers of underserved languages can provide. This raises concerns about how the labor of the native speakers powering A.I. tools will be valued and how repositories of linguistic data will be commercialized.

To understand how A.I.-assisted translation tools like StoryWeaver work, it’s helpful to look at neighboring India: With 22 official languages and more than 780 spoken languages, it is no accident that the country is a hub of innovation for multilingual tech. StoryWeaver’s inner core is inspired by a natural language processing tool developed at Microsoft Research India called interactive neural machine translation prediction technology, or INMT.

Unlike most A.I.-powered commercial translation tools, INMT doesn’t do away with a human intermediary altogether. Instead, it assists humans with hints in the language they’re translating into. For example, if you begin typing, “It is raining” in the target language, the model working on the back-end supplies “tonight,” “heavily,” and “cats and dogs” as options for completing your sentence, based on the context and the previous word or set of words. During translation, the tool accounts for meaning in the original language and what the target language allows, and then generates possibilities for the translator to choose from, said Kalika Bali, principal researcher at Microsoft and one of INMT’s main architects.

Tools like INMT allow StoryWeaver’s cadre of volunteers to generate translations of existing stories quickly. The user interface is easy to master even for amateur translators, many of whom, like Chaudhary, are either volunteering their time or already working for nonprofits in early childhood education. The latter is the case for Churki Hansda. Working in Kora and Santali, two underserved Indigenous languages spoken in eastern India, she is an employee at Suchana Uttor Chandipur Community Society, one of StoryWeaver’s many partner organizations scattered all over the world. “We didn’t really have storybooks growing up. Our school textbooks were in Bengali [the dominant regional language], and we would end up memorizing everything because we didn’t understand what we were reading,” Hansda told me. “It’s a good feeling to be able to create books in our languages for our children.”

Amna Singh, Pratham Books’ content and partnerships manager, estimates that 58 percent of the languages represented on StoryWeaver are underserved, a status quo that has cascading consequences for early childhood learning outcomes. But attempts to undo the neglect of underserved language communities are also closely linked with unlocking their potential as consumers, and A.I.-powered translation technology is a big part of this shift. Voice recognition tools and chat bots in regional Indian languages aim to woo customers outside metropolitan cities, a market that is expected to expand as cellular data usage becomes even cheaper.

These tools are only as good as their training data, and sourcing is a major challenge. For sustained multilingualism on the internet, machine translation models require large volumes of training data generated in two languages parallel to one another. Parliamentary proceedings and media publications are common sources of publicly available data that can be scraped for training purposes. However, both these sources—according to Microsoft’s researcher Bali—are too specific, and do not encompass a wide enough range in terms of topics and vocabulary to be properly representative of human speech. (This is why StoryWeaver isn’t a good source for training data, either, because sentences in children’s books are fairly simple and the reading corpus only goes up to fourth-grade reading levels.)

Link to the rest at Slate

“A life lived to the full”, Philip Kogan remembered at packed funeral

From The Bookseller:

Family, friends, and colleagues from across the trade gathered at Golders Green Crematorium last week (18th January) to pay tribute and say farewell to Kogan Page founder Philip Kogan, who died on Christmas Eve aged 92. Eulogies were read by his three children, including current Kogan Page m.d. Helen Kogan, who described her father as “an extraordinary man” who had lived life to the full.

There was standing room only at the Chapel—and party thereafter, held at The York and Albany Hotel—with trade attendees including Richard Charkin, Bridget Shine, David Taylor, Jonathan Nowell, Tony Mulliken. Toby Faber, Gloria Bailey, Ian Taylor, Jo Howard, Nicholas Brealey, Alan Leitch, Kyle Cathie, Anne Dolamore, John Davies, Philip Cotterell, David Hicks, and John Parke. 

One tribute described him as having “written the agenda for independent publishing over the late 20th century”. He was variously described as cantankerous, gruff and prickly, but under it all remembered also as “kind and thoughtful” with a willingness to share information—a true “original”, as one tribute put it. His children talked of his love for classical music, his approach to DIY and gardening, his publishing business, his generosity, and his fondness for “the buzz”, manifesting in publishing and family parties, or simply nights out.

His early life in the East End of London was recalled, as was his first career as a scientist, ultimately rejecting the safety of steady job progression for the riskier pursuits of books and independent publishing, supported throughout by his wife Gillian. Business book publisher Kogan Page was founded in 1967, with journalist Terry Page.

Helen Kogan said: “Dad didn’t split the personal and professional, He made lifelong friendships with fellow publishers and colleagues and the company became inseparable from the family’s life.” Kogan said she had asked her mother, Gillian, what had drawn Kogan into publishing, and she had responded that as a research physicist he might have one eureka moment every 10 years, but as a publisher he could have one every day. He was always way ahead of everyone, added Kogan, but he allowed his team space to turn these eureka moments into reality. “His energy was a magnet,” she recalled, remembering the moment she joined the family firm and could experience it first hand.

“He could be hard work, demanding, and got frustrated easily. Something of the East End boy still remained. His irreverence certainly rubbed some people up the wrong way, but those who got him, really got him. He loved the idea of being an independent and seeing others being successful in building their own companies. At the end of day, publishing aside, he was also a loving husband, a challenging and brilliant father, and a doting grandfather. He was loved and he loved us: [it was] an extraordinary life, a life lived to the full. We shall miss him more than words can say.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Indigenous Authors Have More to Share Than Trauma Narratives

From Publisher’s Weekly:

When I think about what is discussed when talking about Indigenous literature, I often think about what isn’t out there yet or what there isn’t enough of. What do we need more of? What type of stories will benefit us and those who are learning about us?

Last spring, we at Heyday welcomed some of our oldest friends and biggest supporters at our annual Heyday in L.A. event. Among them were two of the most enthusiastic California Native people I’ve come across when it comes to Indigenous literature: a Native bookshop owner and an American Indian literature professor. I had the privilege to engage in a very spirited discussion with the two of them, during which I asked them,“Do you know of any novels by Native authors that are not centered on trauma?”

They both pondered on this question. It was the only time in the conversation where there was silence. The three of us could not come up with an answer; there was not one book we could think of that didn’t deal with the ugly things that colonization brought to us, such as death, disease, grief, poverty, childhood trauma, sexual assault or abuse, drug use, alcoholism, missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, mental illness, or a long list of other things that plague many of our tribal communities.

What I find most upsetting about this is that there is a real possibility that a lot of our own literature is unwittingly perpetuating the narrative that tribal people are tragic, but there is much more to us than this. We are funny. We are resilient. We are smart. We are innovative. We are thriving. We have generosity and kindness in our communities. Many of us are very delightful. Where are these delightful stories of ours? And do people want to read about them? Well, regardless of whether people do, I believe these books should exist in the world.

A lot of my work in the Heyday Berkeley Roundhouse, which publishes books by California’s Indigenous peoples and the quarterly magazine News from Native California, I’ve found that there is a lot that tribal people are not asked about in terms of their lived experiences: stories about connection, growth, and triumph. And we are so lucky when authors come to us with these stories.

When our now editorial manager brought me the submitted manuscript for An Indian Among los Indígenas by Karuk author Ursula Pike, I couldn’t have been more excited. It’s a travel memoir about Pike’s experience in the Peace Corps while serving Indigenous communities in Bolivia. It was fantastic to address the parallel experiences of Indigenous peoples across the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere, as well as the differences. The story provoked a lot of introspection in me. I remember thinking that there are plenty of Eat, Pray, Love–type memoirs out there that explore self-discovery, but not many that center Indigenous perspectives.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy

From Grammarly Blog:

The foundation of any logical argument is at least one credible, logical source to support it. You use a logical fallacy when you support your claim with an illogical source. There are a lot of logical fallacies out there, all of which fail to support their arguers’ claims. However, while many rely on inadequate or irrelevant reasons to support their claims, one of them relies on the lack of any evidence that disproves the claim. This fallacy is known as the appeal to ignorance fallacy. 

What is the appeal to ignorance fallacy?

The appeal to ignorance fallacy is the logical fallacy of claiming that a statement must be true because there’s no evidence against it. It can look like this: 

  • There are ghosts in our attic; nobody’s been able to prove they aren’t there. 
  • Masha’s doing a great job as team captain since nobody complained about her. 
  • There’s no way to prove the lost city of Atlantis didn’t exist, which is a reason to believe it could have existed. 

With the appeal to ignorance fallacy, the arguer doesn’t provide evidence to support their claim. Instead, they shift the burden of proof to the other party, implying that a lack of proof to the contrary means their claim must be true. 

The burden of proof is the obligation one has to prove their claim is true. It’s a legal concept used in both criminal and civil courts. In criminal law, an individual accused of a crime is considered innocent until they are proven guilty. The burden of proof here is on the prosecution to demonstrate that the individual committed the offense they are accused of. In civil court, the burden of proof is on any plaintiff making a claim, such as an individual claiming they slipped and suffered an injury because of a property owner’s failure to maintain a safe environment. 

In discourse, the burden of proof applies in a similar way. When you make a claim, you’re obligated to support it with credible sources—it’s not your opponent’s job to prove you wrong. 

The appeal to ignorance fallacy, along with other “appeal to” fallacies like the appeal to pity fallacy, is an informal fallacy. That means the claim’s content, rather than its structure, renders the claim illogical. Other informal fallacies include the bandwagon fallacy, the sunk cost fallacy, and the slippery slope fallacy

How is the appeal to ignorance fallacy used?

Speakers and writers use the appeal to ignorance fallacy in just about every type of writing and nonwritten communication. You’ve likely encountered it in conversations, blog posts, online discussions, and even from high-ranking officials. Sometimes, it’s used to defend an action, rather than to support a claim. Here is an example: 

  • I’ve never fallen off my bike before, so there’s no reason for me to start wearing a helmet when I ride. 

Although the appeal to ignorance fallacy is often used to support claims (sometimes in bad faith), this isn’t the only way it’s used. Sometimes, it’s used in rhetoric to sow seeds of doubt about an idea in readers’ minds. This is similar to the strategy of raising doubts, which can sound like this: 

  • Although I was the only staff member scheduled to be here, we can’t rule out the idea that somebody else entered the building last night and ate all the cookies. 

It can also be used in a nonfallacious manner. Think back to our discussion about the burden of proof and the idea that an individual who is accused of a crime is innocent until they are proven guilty. It hinges on the same concept as an appeal to ignorance argument—that unless a fact can be proven, we must accept that the opposite at least can be true. 

Whether an appeal to ignorance is fallacious or not, as with other fallacies that also have nonfallacious applications, depends on how and where it’s used. While the idea that somebody is innocent until they are proven guilty is a key component of our justice system, that same logic wouldn’t hold up in a research paper. In a research paper, like other types of academic writing, the burden of proof is on the author to support any claim they make. 

Appeal to ignorance fallacy examples

The university never sent you a rejection letter, so you’ve probably been accepted. 

I always leave my car unlocked, and nobody’s ever broken in. It’s fine to leave your car unlocked. 

Doctors can’t explain how he recovered. It must have been through our prayers. 

Student 1: Why should I join your organization?

Student 2: Why shouldn’t you?

Link to the rest at Grammarly Blog

The worst sentence structure on the planet

From Nathan Bransford:

David Owen of The New Yorker and I should absolutely go bowling together because he has written an exhaustive screed against front-loaded, somersaulting sentences, which has a surprising history with roots in journalism and misguided “elegant variation.” David my man, tell it like it is:

The awkwardness is obvious if you imagine hearing one in conversation. No one has ever said to you, “A sophomore at Cornell, my niece is coming home for Christmas,” or “Sixty-six years old, my wife is an incredible cook.” Either sentence, if spoken, would sound almost comical, as though the speaker were struggling to learn English. (You wouldn’t use one in an e-mail or a text to a friend, either.) Yet, if you were writing an obituary for your college’s alumni magazine, let’s say, you wouldn’t hesitate: “A standout schoolboy athlete, he ran his family’s door-and-window business.”

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The Patent Law Origins of Science Fiction

From Patentlyo.com:

Are inventions described in works of science fiction patentable? The answer is usually no, and for good reason. Some of the most beloved fixtures of the genre—time machines, faster-than-light space travel, teleportation, downloading memories, copying a consciousness, etcetera—are impossible or not yet possible when described by the author. This sort of science fiction is not patentable because it cannot logically be enabled or have credible utility when the patent is filed.

For similar reasons, science fiction is rarely cited as prior art against later patent filings. Science fiction can qualify as prior art under § 102(a) as a “printed publication” or as “otherwise available to the public.” It can be especially useful as “obviousness” prior art because, to quote the Federal Circuit, a “reference that does not provide an enabling disclosure for a particular claim limitation may nonetheless furnish the motivation to combine, and be combined with, another reference in which that limitation is enabled.” Raytheon Techs. Corp. v. General Electric Company,. . .. However, science fiction is unlikely to be cited during examination. Examiners lack the time and energy to search for on-point science fiction where there is so much more (and better catalogued) prior art among patents and scientific publications. Applicants, for their part, are not required to disclose prior art that is not material to patentability or that is cumulative of other prior art they’ve already provided.

. . . .

It may surprise you, then, to learn that the genre of science fiction is deeply indebted to patent law and patent theory. In our new paper, The Patent Law Origins of Science Fiction, . . . we show that science fiction as a literary form was originally premised on the idea that works of science fiction are like patents. They disclose useful technical information that can give readers a “stimulus” to perfect the invention and figure out how to make it work.

The person responsible for this comparison was the so-called “father” of science fiction, Hugo Gernsback. He started the first exclusively-science fiction magazine, called Amazing Stories, in 1926. The Hugo awards, given to the best works of science fiction and fantasy writing, are named after him.

Gernsback was also an inventor and serious scientific thinker in his own right. He died with over thirty patents to his name. In the early 1900s, he started a radio and electronics equipment company in New York. To support his business, he initially published catalogs for mail-order electrical components, but the catalogs soon morphed into full-sized magazines with titles like “Modern Electrics, marketed to inventors and amateur “tinkerers.” . . . . His magazines were full of information about patents and advice on patenting—which Gernsback deemed an essential step in the commercial success of any new invention.

At first, Gernsback started publishing science fiction stories—which he then called “scientifiction”—to fill space in his electrical magazines. These stories were sometimes little more than a few paragraphs of exposition about some speculative new device that might be used in the future, plugged into a generic adventure plot. For example, one story featured a genius from the future using (what we now call) “radar” to track down a Martian who had kidnapped the protagonist’s love interest in a Space Flyer. Despite the fictional elements, science and scientific plausibility were still all-important. Gernsback was fond of saying the recipe for good scientifiction was 25% science and 75% literature.

Readers loved it, and Amazing Stories was born. Gernsback knew he was on to something, and he frequently published editorials expounding on the virtues of scientifiction. These editorials, along with his unpublished manuscripts, reveal Gernsback’s theory that a good science fiction story is like a patent, but a much more “palatable” read. Although he did not articulate it in precisely the same terms, Gernsback’s justification for scientifiction echoes the language of patent law’s disclosure theory. Scientifiction, he wrote, provides both knowledge and “stimulus.” It inspires “seriously-minded” readers to learn about science and technology, and it supplies the “inventor or inventor-to-be who reads the story” with “an incentive” to “realiz[e] the author’s ambition” by perfecting the author’s science fictional inventions in the real world. Gernsback often drew the analogy to patents quite explicitly. The science fiction author, in his framework, was “an original inventor,” like the named inventor on a patent. The readers who got the author’s invention to work were like “manufacturers” who buy patents and commercialize the inventions therein “with but a few changes.” They were just there to profit from the author’s grand ambitions.

Over time, Gernsback developed a crazy idea. If science fiction authors are “inventors” who inspire others to reduce their inventions to practice, then shouldn’t science fiction authors be able to get patents for their prescient descriptions of future inventions? And shouldn’t science fiction serve as prior art against other peoples’ patents? In 1952, just after Congress had modernized the Patent Act, Gernsback made these ideas public. In a speech he gave to the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, he proposed that Congress should reform patent law (again) to give science fiction authors the ability to apply for “Provisional Patents.”

Gernsback’s Provisional Patents were not at all like today’s provisional patent applications. . . . His Provisional Patents would have given science fiction authors thirty extra years in which to demonstrate their science fictional inventions worked. If they could do so, the Provisional Patent would be converted into a normal patent, presumably in force for the full patent term (which at that time meant 17 years). Otherwise, it would be abandoned. This proposal was not adopted and, we presume, was never seriously considered.

In the same speech, Gernsback also proposed that authors and publishers should start identifying works of science fiction that contained “new and feasible” inventions, so that they could send these selected works to the patent office. Gernsback’s hope was that the patent office would be deluged with science fiction and have no choice but to start reviewing and citing science fiction more often as prior art. This idea had more grounding in current law than Gernsback’s Provisional Patents, but it was not adopted either. Mechanisms for getting prior art to the patent office have certainly improved since Gernsback’s time. But we still don’t send the patent office curated collections of science fiction.

. . . .

Gernsback’s ideas were iconoclastic, and his proposal to make Provisional Patents available for inventions that are not yet reduced to practice is deeply troubling from a policy perspective. Science fiction authors who make reasonably accurate predictions about future technological developments would gain the ability to sue the very people who figure out how to make those technologies. Imagine the effect on the computer industry if a science fiction author had been able to reserve the right to patent a supercomputer in the early 1920s, and then converted this into a full patent in the 1950s…

But taking Gernsback’s ideas seriously generates some surprising insights. Science fiction—of the type that Gernsback and “hard sf” writers like Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov wrote—has more in common with patents than it might seem. Publishing a work of science fiction confers no exclusive rights on the inventions it contains. But, like patents, works of science fiction are documents that disclose potentially useful information about science and technology. Like patents, science fiction stories can describe inventions that have not literally been reduced to practice; they can leave many details to skilled artisans to figure out. Both science fiction readers and patent examiners are also supposed to suspend disbelief, presuming the inventions described on the page are based on plausible scientific principles. . . . If we think patents are an important part of the innovation ecosystem because they disseminate useful technological teachings and insights, then science fiction might be too.

How often science fiction influences innovation is an extremely interesting question. Ironically, the patent record itself is a great source of data with which to test Gernsback’s theories. In fact, one of Gernsback’s more questionable assumptions was that profit-hungry readers are “continuously” filing patents on inventions they learned about in science fiction. They remember the idea, “lard it with a few of [their] own, patent it and start a new billion dollar industry on it.” Regardless of whether that is true, if someone is inspired by science fiction to make an invention in the real world, then we should sometimes see evidence of this in the patent record.

Formal prior art citations to science fiction are rare for the reasons we said above. But we can find circumstantial evidence of science fiction’s influence by searching patents. For example, specifications sometimes reference science fiction in the body, even if they don’t formally cite to science fiction as prior art. Search the patent record for “Asimov, “Three Laws of Robotics,” or “Star Trek,” and you’ll see what we mean. We can also find more direct evidence of influence—situations where inventors expressly state that they got their inspiration from science fiction. For this, though, we usually have to look outside the patent record. Inventors’ autobiographies, interviews, speeches, and marketing efforts can reveal clues. For example, Neil Stephenson’s 1992 book Snow Crash features a virtual world called the Metaverse. Facebook and other tech companies are making their own virtual worlds and calling them by the same name. That, along with direct statements from employees that Stephenson is “our inspiration,” helps support that there was some degree of influence. Steven Levy, Neal Stephenson Named the Metaverse. Now, He’s Building It, Wired (Sept. 16, 2022).

Link to the rest at Patentlyo.com and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG notes that the OP includes many links he has removed. However, PG didn’t hit a paywall when he clicked on the link, so, if your OCD is kicking up, you should be able to go to the OP, click on the links and learn much more.

I am an invisible man

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.

First paragraph of The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Update on Spam Comments

A few days ago, PG turned off the anti-spam tool for comments due to feedback he had received from some visitors to TPV that it was annoying.

He’s finding that the system was filtering out a lot of pure spam comments that are collecting in his approval folder. (TPV is set to require that a first-time commenter have one comment approved by PG before being able to have her/his/their comment automatically posted. Smart spammers know this and will post a relevant comment first, then turn on the spam, but it’s difficult to automate that.)

PG is going to wait and see over the next few days what the spam load is looking like.

If anyone sees what they regard as a spam comment that shows up under any of the posts on TPV, please let PG know via the Contact PG button at the top of the blog.

Open Road Media: A New Version of Its Marketing Offer

From Publishing Perspectives:

Our Publishing Perspectives readers may remember our announcement in July that New York City-based Open Road Integrated Media had begun offering a service beyond its core “Ignition” marketing plan called Open Road Activation.

Late in the day on Thursday (January 11), the company messaged the news media that it has opened its new year with an updated version of the new offer called “Activation 2.0,” which is being referred to as a “redesign” of the July “Activation” product.

Although Open Road is seated in the States, the service is open to international publishers, with the one caveat that most of its consumer base—which by last summer reportedly comprised  some 3 million users—reads in English. In July, we were old that publishers in the United Kingdom were utilizing the company’s original “Ignition” program quite regularly, and Open Road’s personnel in the past have been at London Book Fair (this year, April 18 to 20).

The summer release of “Activation” stepped up the original “Ignition” offering to allow publishers to choose D2C (direct to consumer) components both from the company’s existing newsletters and from those newsletters’ associated sites. Open Road says its visitors to those sites are providing 1.2 million monthly page views, with stickiness at close to four minutes for the average visit. “Classic mystery” seems to be the main draw, followed by social and military history. And overall, the Open Road marketing scheme has developed as one of the most advanced uses of consumer data for retail outreach based in an independent company, as opposed to being seated in a given publishing house’s own marketing offices.

Descriptive text about “Activation 2.0” indicates that its key advantage is segmentation of the user base on the receiving end of Open Road’s marketing pieces. “Countless” specific segments, the company’s material says, “are available to be engaged, from readers of classic mystery, cyberpunk, and military history to vegan cooking, middle grade, Christian nonfiction, book club reads,” and more. 

Examples of what Open Road calls “hyper-specific segments” include neuroscience, birds of prey, ancient Greek history, mixed martial arts, and “Parisian enthusiast.” 

What may be of interest here is that Amazon reportedly has, since the autumn, appeared to be limiting to three the number of categories in which a book might be ranked. A publisher might think of “Activation 2.0’s” segmentation as a way to reach at least the Open Road consumer marketing base with a broader range of categories and “hyper-specific segments.”

Open Road says that the first iteration of “Activation” has been used by “Big Five imprints [including] Doubleday, Simon & Schuster, Harper, Flatiron, St. Martin’s, Tor, and Knopf, as well as independent  publishers and university presses [including] Sourcebooks, Astra Publishing House, Hearst Books, Blackstone, Soho  Press, and Yale University Press.”

What may be just as interesting to publishers as categorization in “Activation 2.0” is a new feature that Open Road says allows choices of specific points of emphasis such as “title awareness” and the less concise phrase “performance plus.” 

Activation 2.0 also offers email placements “enabling publishers to build or sustain momentum on individual titles by slotting them into targeted ‘Spotlight’ emails featuring 10 titles each.”

There are also options in display advertising in the company’s D2C newsletters–with an option of similar ad placement on each newsletter’s associated site. On those associated sites, publishers can also consider co-branded home-page takeovers, certainly one of the most successful techniques for annoying one’s users yet developed in the digital world, guaranteeing at least momentary visibility while the cursing user searches for the “X” to close the takeover.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG’s reaction is that there are a lot of much bigger businesses that provide much better segmenting that he thinks is going to be delivered by the company mentioned in the OP.

Amazon, Google and Facebook come immediately to mind. PG would be happy to hear from any others who know more about what Open Road is actually doing.

PG went to their home page and was massively underwhelmed. He couldn’t find any free online analytics site that could tell him anything about how many people go to/search for the company.

Would You Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good-enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Despite that certainty, she made her way to the lab to pack her daughter’s lunch.

Fuel for learning, Elizabeth Zott wrote on a small slip of paper before tucking it into her daughter’s lunch box. Then she paused, her pencil in midair, as if reconsidering. Play sports at recess but do not automatically let the boys win, she wrote on another slip. Then she paused again, tapping her pencil against the table. It is not your imagination, she wrote on a third. Most people are awful. She placed the last two on top.

Most young children can’t read, and if they can, it’s mostly words like “dog” and “go.” But Madeline had been reading since age three and, now, at age five, was already through most of Dickens.

Madeline was that kind of child—the kind who could hum a Bach concerto but couldn’t (snip)

Were you moved to want more?

. . . .

I’ve found this to be a great way to evaluate a narrative that is borderline on the first page and see if it’s worth my coin.

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for January 22, 2023. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus compelling?

My vote: Yes-ish.

This book received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Once again, an inviting voice lured me into turning the page. This character reads like an interesting person, and she does have a trouble—feeling that her life was over. But she takes good care, as far as we can see, of an exceptional child, her daughter. Much to admire in this character, and plenty of interest for me. I wanted to learn more about how she would handle her emotional distress. And, having been a child who read early much like Madeline does, in finding out more about her, too.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Life is one big road with lots of signs

Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!

Bob Marley

Would You Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good-enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Despite that certainty, she made her way to the lab to pack her daughter’s lunch.

Fuel for learning, Elizabeth Zott wrote on a small slip of paper before tucking it into her daughter’s lunch box. Then she paused, her pencil in midair, as if reconsidering. Play sports at recess but do not automatically let the boys win, she wrote on another slip. Then she paused again, tapping her pencil against the table. It is not your imagination, she wrote on a third. Most people are awful. She placed the last two on top.

Most young children can’t read, and if they can, it’s mostly words like “dog” and “go.” But Madeline had been reading since age three and, now, at age five, was already through most of Dickens.

Madeline was that kind of child—the kind who could hum a Bach concerto but couldn’t (snip)

Were you moved to want more?

  • Yes, I want more of this character and her story. (79%, 116 Votes)
  • No, didn’t take hold of me. (21%, 30 Votes)

Total Voters: 146

. . . .

I’ve found this to be a great way to evaluate a narrative that is borderline on the first page and see if it’s worth my coin.

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for January 22, 2023. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus compelling?

My vote: Yes-ish.

This book received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Once again, an inviting voice lured me into turning the page. This character reads like an interesting person, and she does have a trouble—feeling that her life was over. But she takes good care, as far as we can see, of an exceptional child, her daughter. Much to admire in this character, and plenty of interest for me. I wanted to learn more about how she would handle her emotional distress. And, having been a child who read early much like Madeline does, in finding out more about her, too.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

We Need To Talk About Professional Jealousy

From Electric Lit:

I never thought I’d be one of those people,” she said.

T Kira Madden and I were sitting in the private room of a fancy strip-mall restaurant in Albany, New York, and I was eating a very expensive salad. Earlier that afternoon, we had given a reading at a local bookstore with T Kira’s then-fiancé (now wife) H. The reading was part of the book tour promoting T Kira’s memoir Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless GirlsIt had been a kindness on T Kira’s part, inviting me to read alongside her and H. The other writers who would be joining her later on the tour were far more advanced in their careers than I was at that time. But it was not an altogether surprising kindness. T Kira has always been one of the most generous literary stewards I know.

After the reading, T Kira invited me to join their families for dinner. Another kindness. I sat between T Kira and H., and we caught up in the way of friends who don’t see one another often enough. Eventually the conversation turned to the subject that had occasioned our reunion. As far as I could tell, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls was already a success. It had been reviewed widely and well, and had dominated my social media feed since its release. But when I asked T Kira how she was feeling about the book’s debut, she hesitated.

“I never thought I’d be one of those people,” she said.

“Which people?” I asked.

T Kira paused.

“I never thought I’d be one of those people tracking their book sales,” she said. “I never thought I’d be comparing my sales and reviews to other people’s. I never thought I’d be—”

She didn’t finish the sentence, but I knew where it was headed.

“Jealous,” I said.

T Kira looked down. Her long hair hung over her soup bowl.

I chuckled.

“Oh, do I have a story for you,” I said.

I first met C Pam Zhang at a writers’ conference in Vermont in 2017, six months before my reading with T Kira. I had edited a story of Pam’s for a literary journal earlier that year, and I was excited when I learned we’d both be attending the conference that summer. We even conspired to enroll in the same fiction workshop. Pam is a brilliant writer, and her sly and observant sense of humor immediately endeared me to her. What’s more, we were at similar places in our careers then, both querying agents for manuscripts, Pam for her novel How Much of These Hills is Gold, me for a collection of short stories. Querying agents is a very specific flavor of hell, and it was comforting to feel like I wasn’t alone in the process, to know that Pam and I were in the same boat. Then, a month after the conference, Pam signed with an agent and sold her novel, while the prospects of representation for my own manuscript had all but evaporated. A month later, we applied for the same fellowship. Pam got it; I did not. A month after that, a pedigreed literary journal rejected one of my stories and shortly thereafter accepted a story of Pam’s. As her friend and as an editor who had supported her work, I was happy for Pam—I genuinely was—but tangled up in that feeling was something else, something that complicated it. It felt as though Pam had made it to dry land, and now there I was, alone in our boat, trying my best to row one-oared.

What is this awful feeling? I wondered.

Oh fuck, I realized. I’m jealous.

When I told T Kira this story, she nodded.

“But here’s the thing. It wasn’t jealousy,” I told her. “It was something very different.”

In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott writes, “Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and the most degrading.” The first time I read that sentence, my immediate reaction was relief. Oh, thank God, I thought. I’m not alone in this experience. Professional jealousy does often feel like an occupational hazard for writers, but it has been my experience that as a community we don’t really talk about it. Sure, we may voice it jokingly—“I’m so jealous!”—or indirectly, by making some passive-aggressive remark about another writer’s success, but honest and vulnerable conversations about the experience of professional jealousy generally seem to be lacking. Among writers, the subject feels almost taboo. At least, that has been my experience.

.I do want to say that what we popularly refer to as “professional jealousy” might more accurately be termed “professional envy” by clinicians and emotions researchers. The distinction being that jealousy arises from the fear of losing something we have to another person, whereas envy stems from the desire for something another person has that we lack. I believe strongly in the importance of emotional literacy and granularity—the ability to accurately name and distinguish between emotions—but culturally we use the term “professional jealousy,” not “professional envy,” and in my conversation with T Kira jealousy was the word we used, so for the purposes of this essay, I’ll let it stand.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

A Big Wake-Up Call

From Publishing Perspectives:

In our January 6 interview with the Brazilian publisher Karine Pansa—who this month has begun her two-year term as president of the International Publishers Association (IPA)—she stressed the challenge faced by the world publishing industry to generate and analyze coherent data among international markets.

On Monday (January 16), in giving a keynote address at the Digital Book World conference in New York, Pansa expanded on the case for her emphasis on getting past an apples-and-oranges juggling act when it comes to collecting and interpreting data across the international spectrum of the book business.

As she put it, the issue “demonstrates both how many opportunities there are in the digital publishing market but also how we have to work harder to build a compelling external narrative about the innovation in our sector.”

Pansa noted that in putting together her presentation, she and IPA have had the support of IPA’s partner in Geneva, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), as well as Nielsen BookData, and some of the 92 national publishers’ caucuses that are member-associations of the 76-nation program she leads. She and IPA have shared with Publishing Perspectives (we are IPA’s global media partner) Pansa’s presentation for our report today (January 17).

What Pansa had come to say on Monday, was, “We know market data of some type exists for about 40 countries. That means there is a lot of data darkness.”

. . . .

Turning first to an example she had mentioned in our interview—incompatible datasets from markets in Latin America—Pansa presented to her audience illustrations of how in her region, data is available “for just three markets”: Brazil—where she directs publishing at Girassol Brasil in São Paulo—as well as Colombia and Mexico.

In terms of digital books, Pansa pointed out, Colombia surprisingly appears to lead, available data showing a 15-percent share of market for digital books over 4 percent in Mexico and 6 percent in Brazil.

The reason? “In Colombia,” she said, “the digital book is not just an ebook or audiobook but also educational platforms. Obviously boosted by the pandemic, these platforms have a real impact on the numbers in Colombia where audiobooks are almost negligible. In Mexico, audiobooks are even less present, and print is very much still king.

“Across these three markets,” she said, “we have different definitions of digital books, we are at least comparing revenues, but we have vastly different degrees of granularity.”

And perhaps most important relative to these three Latin American markets, she made the point that “Developing countries still struggle to grow their markets because there is a structural barrier for their demand. Aspects like reading habits and reading skills are top difficulties and are only part of the discussion.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While PG was reading the OP, he realized that he didn’t have a good (or even mediocre) sense of how the various English-speaking book markets differ from each other.

Feel free to share information or opinions in the comments.

In passing, PG wondered how many different times he had heard/read the term, “wake-up call.”

In his experience, the term is immensely overused at least in the United States to the point at which it has moved beyond cliché into some sort of noise word or noise phrase.

How environmentally sustainable is storytelling?

From GoodEreader:

When the world got shut down, many of us found refuge by escaping into stories. Whether reading an intriguing historical biography, an engrossing thriller, or a magical fantasy; for many of us curling up with a book has been a more popular past time. As such, as the world opens back up, it’s an interesting time to look at how our reading habits have changed, and whether or not they have an impact on the environment.

E-readers and digital content has boomed significantly over the last decade. Now a day, it’s not uncommon to hear about book club members debating between whether to read a print book or e-book; as there are pros and cons for each. Some people in my book club swear by the experience of the mighty e-reader, enjoying its compact nature, ability to hold multiple books, the many cool features, as well as the ability to read “pretty much anywhere.” (Except while driving! Judy, we’ve talked about this before).

It seems I’m a bit of a dinosaur, and although I like to read manga via a digital platform, I’m still quite in love with print books.

. . . .

I prefer the experience of holding a glossy print book, and being able to flip through the pages, underline favorite passages, and yes, if I choose, I may even dog ear pages. (shh!) Personally, I often use my book as a coaster for my coffee, which becomes rather ridiculous and redundant when I make a fresh cup of coffee and then sit down to read… spending longer than I’d like to admit wondering to myself, “Now… where did I set that book down?”

For my book club, debating what format we were going to use to read our next book didn’t really matter as we simply accommodated everyone, choosing novels which come in both print and digital formats. However, just recently a book club member brought up another reason to consider e-readers which created quite a stir and definitely caught my attention: the negative environmental impact of print books.

Although this book member was rather nice about accusing me of killing the planet one page at a time- she offered me cookies while launching into my moral shortcomings as a print book reader- I must admit I was surprised to hear that the latest climate change culprit was books, and wanted to do a deep dive into the facts around this.

. . . .

According to a recent piece by Nicole Smythe, in Forbes (September 2022) “When creating a print book, one tree can produce around 8,333 pages of paper; therefore, with an average book containing 400 pages, one tree, on average, can produce around 20 books. However, let’s put this into perspective – with the United States seeing an 8.5% increase in print sales, resulting in 825.7 million additional copies being sold, that’s almost 41.2 million trees needed for material purposes alone. This level of deforestation can generate tremendous amounts of wastewater and a sizeable carbon footprint.”

Ms. Smythe, as well as a very passionate book club member of mine, ascertains that readers need to face the fact that change is upon us, and clinging to our beloved paperbacks may be causing serious harm on our environment.

. . . .

“At the end of a book’s life, unless followed through with a proper recycling process, most often or not, it will end up in a landfill. The process of print book decomposition is one of the most ecologically unfriendly aspects in its full product lifecycle, as it will produce twice the climate change emissions as its manufacturing process.” (Forbes, 2022)

. . . .

In at 2020 piece published in Anthropocene looking at the the environmental footprint of paper vs. electronic books, writer Pierre-Olivier Roy states, “E-readers don’t require trees, ink, or glue—nor do they take up as much space and weight as a traditional book. An e-reader represents not just one book but an entire bookshelf, so having more books on the e-reader reduces the environmental burden per book. On the other hand, e-readers consist of electronic components (such as the screen, lithium-ion battery, and CPU)—all of which require extraction and transformation of different resources (copper, silicon, and rare earth elements, among others). They use electricity to recharge, and the data centers and servers that host electronic books before they’re downloaded also consume resources and energy. What’s more, an e-reader has a shorter lifetime (around three years) than a paper book. And even though recycling electronic products continues to become easier, the practice is still not widespread and is much more problematic than recycling paper books.”

Link to the rest at GoodEreader

PG reads the large majority of the content he consumes via various screens. However, he is a strong proponent of live and let live in any disputes regarding ebooks v. paper books (as well as a great many other things.)

Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever

“Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever,” he said. “You might want to think about that.”
“You forget some things, don’t you?”
“Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.”

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

13-Year-Old Signs Deal for Contraband Books Exposing Darker Side of Social Media

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Abi Behe, a 13-year-old Londoner has agreed a book deal with UK publisher Markosia for her graphic novels Christiania and Charlie Dirtbags.  Co-created with comic artists Taka, Thomas Muzzell and Thomas John, both books will come out in 2023.

Released this spring, Christiania is set in Freetown – Copenhagen’s crown jewel of artist expression – and centres on social media’s disruptive impact on a defiant Danish teenage girl.  After her parents are forced out of the community, a Christiania is left to raise herself and thrives despite excessive peer pressure – until a close connection seeking online fame begins aggressively targeting her.

“When I thought about making the female character, I wanted her to have experiences similar to girls my age,” says writer Abi Behe. “I hope people can relate to her because I sometimes feel how she feels in the story.”

In the tradition of noir Danish comics portraying idealistic societies with a darker, dysfunctional underworlds, the lead character is a personification of Freetown – an energetic community resisting mainstream superficiality whilst struggling to deal with crime within its boundaries.

“Christiania the girl represents what the real place is all about,” says Behe. “She has gone through all sorts of problems over the years and survived. But then a social media villain tries to destroy Christiania’s real spirit.”

The book’s artist Taka created wordless double-page spreads to emulate the vivid multi-character street art created on the walls throughout Freetown – a stark contrast to rapid-fire content streams flowing in the dark digital world it seeks to expose.

“We wanted to make big two-page scenes without text so readers could soak up each picture and calmly pick up all the meaning,” says Abi. “This is completely different to reading lots of social media messages or news feeds on our phone.”

Both of Behe’s books are set in the world of Contraband, an exploding dark web app attracting people jaded with state censorship, sponsored spam and cancel-culture on mainstream social media. Contraband becomes a criminal digital underground where profit hungry mobs prowl city streets filming radical events to satisfy society’s insatiable demand for sensational content.  But when activists hack the app giving control to any influencer with the most followers, chaos ensues as people everywhere go to any lengths to get the money and fame of being Contraband #1.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

PG says this sounds like more difficult situations than he would have enjoyed when he was 13. He also wonders if the target audience for these books includes children.

The Future of AI Writing and Audio

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Digital Book World, a conference focusing on publishing innovation, offered insight into how technologists, and some publishers, are planning to implement AI into their workflow. Asked about AI and the use of ChatGPT, which automates writing, Mary McAveeney, CEO of Abrams, was skeptical of its ability to write books. She conceded, “It might be good for catalog copy.”

Earlier in the conference, organizer Bradley Metrock asked publishers Laini Brown, director of Publicity for the Nashville office of Hachette Book Group, and Lisa Lucas, senior vice president and publisher of Pantheon and Schocken Books, what they thought of the news that the next iteration of Chat GPT will be able to produce a 60,000 word book in 20 seconds. Neither publisher chose to respond.

Others warned against relying too heavily on AI without human intervention. For example, Madeleine Rothberg, senior subject matter expert for WGBH National Center for Accessible Media in Boston, warned against posting AI-generated subtitles for YouTube videos without first reviewing them. “It’s not a good idea, because we have found the AI doesn’t always get the words right and makes mistakes,” she said, citing instances of unintended vulgarity. Or, as Ashok Giri, CEO of Page Magik put it, “primary research human beings are [still] needed.” Giri’s company offers automation tools and data to help streamline editorial and production workflow.

Others are more skeptical. One attendee, who wished to remain anonymous so as not to offend others in the room, noted that Chat GPT and AI is limited by what is put into it and, for this, it needs to absorb vast swaths of existing information. Much of that comes from print books, e-books, and internet writing protected by copyright. “It sounds exactly like that Google hoped to accomplish with the Google Books program,” they said.“ What happened there? Lawsuits.”

Bradley Metrock, conference organizer, acknowledged that the owners of copyrighted material incorporated will likely challenge the use of their content by AI. “There are going to be a lot of lawsuits before this is sorted out,” said Metrock, who owns several companies that invest in various AI and voice related projects. “The point here is that good technology challenges,” citing the lack of innovation in the ebook space over the past 15 years, he said. “Everything stays the same,” he added, ‘“until it doesn’t.”

. . . .

Audiobooks are now a $5 billion market worldwide, and they continue to experience double digit growth. According to the Association of Audiobook Publishers, the U.S. market is growing at a rate of 25% per year ,and reached $1.6 billion in sales for 2021. “The increasing availability of titles is the biggest driver of audiobook growth,” said Videl Bar-Kar, global head of audio for Frankfurt-based Bookwire. “The best way to grow the catalog of available titles is through backlist.”

Here, the use of AI generated voices to narrate audiobooks offers publishers who cannot afford human narrators the opportunity to turn backlist into audiobooks for low cost. “And if the book sells and becomes a success,” Bar-Kar added, “they can always go back and re-record the book with a human narrator.”

Bar-Kar called the audiobook market a “once in a generation opportunity,” noting: “There are new people discovering audio for the first time year-on-year, not because of the heavy consumers, but because there are new people coming into the market.” He described it as a business opportunity, and one that needs to be demystified: “Have the courage and confidence to stop selling your audiobook rights and develop your own audio program,” he said.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Imitation Is The Best Form Of Flattery. Flattery Is Not A Defense To Copyright Infringement.

From Above the Law:

Unless you’ve been living under a law library, it would be hard to not take note of the rapid influx of AI art. Face modifying apps, extended shots of events and people that never happened that uncanny only begins to explain their weirdness, you name it. The figure of AI as artist has arrived, but is any of it legal? A small group of artists aim to find out. From Reuters:

A group of visual artists has sued artificial intelligence companies for copyright infringement, adding to a fast-emerging line of intellectual property disputes over AI-generated work.

Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion software copies billions of copyrighted images to enable Midjourney and DeviantArt’s AI to create images in those artists’ styles without permission, according to the proposed class-action lawsuit filed Friday in San Francisco federal court.

The artists’ lawyers, the Joseph Saveri Law Firm and Matthew Butterick, filed a separate proposed class action lawsuit in November against Microsoft’s GitHub Inc and its business partner OpenAI Inc for allegedly scraping copyrighted source code without permission to train AI systems.

. . . .

I’m gonna flag it for you in case your eyes glossed over it. The word there is billions. Billons. With a B. Even if the individual damages are pennies on the dollar, the aggregate of those alleged copyright infringements would be… well, I’m not that good at math, but it would put a sizeable dent in my student loan principal.

. . . .

For those not in the know, if you’ve ever seen a stock image, every one you’ve seen is probably from Getty.

Link to the rest at Above the Law

OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour to Make ChatGPT Less Toxic

From Time Magazine:

ChatGPT was hailed as one of 2022’s most impressive technological innovations upon its release last November. The powerful artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot can generate text on almost any topic or theme, from a Shakespearean sonnet reimagined in the style of Megan Thee Stallion, to complex mathematical theorems described in language a 5 year old can understand. Within a week, it had more than a million users.

ChatGPT’s creator, OpenAI, is now reportedly in talks with investors to raise funds at a $29 billion valuation, including a potential $10 billion investment by Microsoft. That would make OpenAI, which was founded in San Francisco in 2015 with the aim of building superintelligent machines, one of the world’s most valuable AI companies.

But the success story is not one of Silicon Valley genius alone. In its quest to make ChatGPT less toxic, OpenAI used outsourced Kenyan laborers earning less than $2 per hour, a TIME investigation has found.

The work was vital for OpenAI. ChatGPT’s predecessor, GPT-3, had already shown an impressive ability to string sentences together. But it was a difficult sell, as the app was also prone to blurting out violent, sexist and racist remarks. This is because the AI had been trained on hundreds of billions of words scraped from the internet—a vast repository of human language. That huge training dataset was the reason for GPT-3’s impressive linguistic capabilities, but was also perhaps its biggest curse. Since parts of the internet are replete with toxicity and bias, there was no easy way of purging those sections of the training data. Even a team of hundreds of humans would have taken decades to trawl through the enormous dataset manually. It was only by building an additional AI-powered safety mechanism that OpenAI would be able to rein in that harm, producing a chatbot suitable for everyday use.

To build that safety system, OpenAI took a leaf out of the playbook of social media companies like Facebook, who had already shown it was possible to build AIs that could detect toxic language like hate speech to help remove it from their platforms. The premise was simple: feed an AI with labeled examples of violence, hate speech, and sexual abuse, and that tool could learn to detect those forms of toxicity in the wild. That detector would be built into ChatGPT to check whether it was echoing the toxicity of its training data, and filter it out before it ever reached the user. It could also help scrub toxic text from the training datasets of future AI models.

To get those labels, OpenAI sent tens of thousands of snippets of text to an outsourcing firm in Kenya, beginning in November 2021. Much of that text appeared to have been pulled from the darkest recesses of the internet. Some of it described situations in graphic detail like child sexual abuse, bestiality, murder, suicide, torture, self harm, and incest.

OpenAI’s outsourcing partner in Kenya was Sama, a San Francisco-based firm that employs workers in Kenya, Uganda and India to label data for Silicon Valley clients like Google, Meta and Microsoft. Sama markets itself as an “ethical AI” company and claims to have helped lift more than 50,000 people out of poverty.

The data labelers employed by Sama on behalf of OpenAI were paid a take-home wage of between around $1.32 and $2 per hour depending on seniority and performance. For this story, TIME reviewed hundreds of pages of internal Sama and OpenAI documents, including workers’ payslips, and interviewed four Sama employees who worked on the project. All the employees spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for their livelihoods.

The story of the workers who made ChatGPT possible offers a glimpse into the conditions in this little-known part of the AI industry, which nevertheless plays an essential role in the effort to make AI systems safe for public consumption. “Despite the foundational role played by these data enrichment professionals, a growing body of research reveals the precarious working conditions these workers face,” says the Partnership on AI, a coalition of AI organizations to which OpenAI belongs. “This may be the result of efforts to hide AI’s dependence on this large labor force when celebrating the efficiency gains of technology. Out of sight is also out of mind.” (OpenAI does not disclose the names of the outsourcers it partners with, and it is not clear whether OpenAI worked with other data labeling firms in addition to Sama on this project.)

. . . .

One Sama worker tasked with reading and labeling text for OpenAI told TIME he suffered from recurring visions after reading a graphic description of a man having sex with a dog in the presence of a young child. “That was torture,” he said. “You will read a number of statements like that all through the week. By the time it gets to Friday, you are disturbed from thinking through that picture.” The work’s traumatic nature eventually led Sama to cancel all its work for OpenAI in February 2022, eight months earlier than planned.

. . . .

Documents reviewed by TIME show that OpenAI signed three contracts worth about $200,000 in total with Sama in late 2021 to label textual descriptions of sexual abuse, hate speech, and violence. Around three dozen workers were split into three teams, one focusing on each subject. Three employees told TIME they were expected to read and label between 150 and 250 passages of text per nine-hour shift. Those snippets could range from around 100 words to well over 1,000. All of the four employees interviewed by TIME described being mentally scarred by the work. Although they were entitled to attend sessions with “wellness” counselors, all four said these sessions were unhelpful and rare due to high demands to be more productive at work. Two said they were only given the option to attend group sessions, and one said their requests to see counselors on a one-to-one basis instead were repeatedly denied by Sama management.

Link to the rest at Time

PG wonders if there isn’t a better way to engineer an AI product to identify and avoid toxic documents in its construction of a database.

He also thinks this is an example of when Sili Valley’s long-standing motto, “Go fast and break things,” should involve some adult judgment in the on the part of someone with authority in the organization..

One of the oldest bits of business advice is, “Know your suppliers.” Evidently, the management at OpenAI all missed the class where that was discussed.

PG notes that his brothers and sisters of the bar are not immune to the “smart people doing dumb things” behavior pattern – see, for example, Why Toxic Culture Is To Blame For Women Leaving Law Firms.

Digital Book World Focuses on Data and Accessibility

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Digital Book World, a conference focusing on innovation in publishing, returned to New York City for the first time since 2016 and runs through Wednesday. The event drew several hundred attendees to the Sheraton Hotel in Times Square for an opening talk by Karine Pansa, Brazilian children’s book publisher and new president of the International Publishers Association. In her remarks, Pansa said that the main areas of focus for her two-year term, which started January 1, will be on collecting data to get an objective baseline of the what is happening in the industry. “We will have a new beginning, driven by data,” said Pansa.

As Pansa noted, the adoption of digital publishing practices, both in production and retailing, vary wildly. In Japan, for example, digital audiobooks account for 35.8% of the total revenue of the book market, while they represent less than 1% of sales in other countries with large book markets, such as Mexico and Colombia. In Spain, digital publishing is growing in popularity, but fully 50% of the material being consumed by readers are being downloaded for free, suggesting piracy is rampant. Piracy also continues to vex Middle Eastern and Africa publishers, which has stalled digitization in the region.

Digitization also impacted retailing, said Pansa, with online bookselling now dominating in Italy, Korea and the U.K. Meanwhile, some regions of the world, such as Africa and the Arabic-speaking countries, remain reticent to engage with digital publishing due to the prevalence of digital piracy in the region.

Part of the IPA’s mission is to educate publishers globally and sometimes this comes down to a simple reminder: not everyone is wealthy enough to afford an e-reader, high-speed internet or even consistent access to books. In the U.K. for example, “75% of people are using e-readers or tablets to access digital material,” said Pansa, “while for many people, like those in my part of the world–Latin America– purchasing a dedicated e-reader is not possible with their salaries.”

Part of Pansa’s message was about making books more accessible to a broader demographic of people. She noted that with its population growth, Africa “offers a big opportunity for publishers to reach a growing audience” while to reach the disabled community, publishers need to make their books “born accessible.” Pansa noted that with the passage of the European Accessibility Act, publishers will be required as of June 2023 to make all of their digital books accessible should they want to sell them in Europe.

. . . .

Accessibility was also the subject of a panel on the first day. On the subject of making print and books accessible, Benetech’s Michael Johnson, v-p of content, said, “It’s just the right thing to do.” He noted, “There are more people in the world who are blind than have red hair. There are more people who are dyslexic than are left handed. So this is a huge group of of people who cannot read your books unless they are accessible.” He said that it may be as much as 20% of the population. “When we talk about DEI [diversity, equity, inclusion] efforts, you cannot leave out the letter, A, for accessible.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

A Place for Fire

From The Paris Review:

We were still in Colorado when we booked a first appointment with a realtor in Rhode Island. In the hour before our video call, my husband suggested we make a list of must-have and nice-to-have features in a house. He wrote “3 BR” in the must-have column on a page in his notebook, because we each wanted our own office, then leaned back in his chair. “Built-in bookshelves would be nice,” he said. We’ve always wanted built-in bookshelves. We didn’t yet know we were going to run out of space in the shipping container we’d rented and would have to throw out all the shelves we owned. “A fireplace,” he added thoughtfully. I went into my strident mode, a part of my bad personality that for some reason I cannot change. “A fireplace isn’t optional!” I said, taking the pen and writing “fireplace” in the must-have column. “I’m not going to buy a house without a fireplace.”

We’d spent eleven years in Denver, all in the same apartment, not because we liked the apartment so much, but because every year, when our lease renewal came up, we never felt much like moving. We had moved out there from Boston with eighty or ninety boxes of books, and we didn’t want to pack them up again. We kept hitting that snooze button. Finally John convinced me to move back to New England—he was born in Connecticut, and he never stopped missing it, the trees and the stone walls and all that. What pushed us over was the housing market, which was more reasonable in Providence than in Denver. John kept showing me listings for adorable Colonials with mortgage payments not much higher than our rent. They looked cozy, and I thought I could be happy in New England if we had a little house to settle down in—one last move for us and for the books—if we could cozy up together on a couch and read by the fire.

We drove across the country at the end of March 2022, arriving in John’s hometown in early April—an old mill town in Southeastern Connecticut, an hour from Providence. Our plan was to stay with his mother for a few months. This had a dual purpose. We’d save money on rent and recoup the costs of moving while we looked for a permanent place to live. We could also help Linda with some things around the house, and keep her company—John’s father had died the previous fall. We felt useful, helping her clean out the basement, which had flooded the previous summer, and manage the yard, and so did she—on nights when we had to work late, Linda made dinner.

It’s strange to return. I lived in Boston in my twenties, and now I’m in my forties. One weekend in April we visited friends in Cambridge, then stopped in Harvard Square to buy Linda a Mother’s Day present. There was still a bitter chill in the wind that morning, and as we drove around looking for a spot to leave the car, we kept passing places where I remembered being cold. Once I slipped on some ice coming out of a bar on Mass Ave. It must have been 2007. There was frozen, jagged snow all over the sidewalks, and I tore my jeans and scraped up my knees and the palms of my hands. A couple days later I got food poisoning—it was particularly miserable, vomiting while down on my wounded knees.

During the spring and into summer, whenever anybody asked me how the house hunt was going, I’d make the same unfunny joke. We’re facing two problems, I’d say, and they’re related. The places we like, we can’t afford, and the places we can afford, we don’t like. During the nine or so months between our decision to move and the actual move, housing prices had gone up something like 25 percent. We had told our realtor the absolute top of our range. A week or so later, he asked for a reminder of that figure, quoting back a number fifty thousand dollars higher than the one we’d given him. I didn’t know how to respond. The places in our price range lacked our must-have features, to say nothing of nice ones. I felt like a fool.

When I was twelve or so, my parents converted their wood-burning fireplace to gas. The idea was that it would be so much easier to light and extinguish that we’d use it more often. But the fireplace lost almost all of its appeal. It no longer gave off any real heat, and it didn’t smell delicious—it didn’t smell like anything—and worst of all, it didn’t crackle. I love the sound of a wood fire, and I got through many a winter in that Denver apartment by burning a special kind of candle with a crackling wooden wick, and by playing ASMR white noise videos on YouTube with names like “Cozy Reading Nook Ambience” and, my favorite, “Crackling Campfire on the Windy Tundra of Norway.” My family’s new gas fireplace offered no drama. As Jun’ichirō Tanizaki once wrote of electric heaters, “without the red glow of the coals, the whole mood of winter is lost.” After the conversion we only lit a fire once a year, on Christmas, and in a perfunctory fashion. In Providence, I thought we might have to settle for a gas fireplace. But most houses we looked at had no fireplace at all. And with interest rates increasing, we couldn’t afford those houses either.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

I must not fear

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert, Dune

Getty Images is suing the creators of AI art tool Stable Diffusion for scraping its content

From The Verge:

Getty Images is suing Stability AI, creators of popular AI art tool Stable Diffusion, over alleged copyright violation.

In a press statement shared with The Verge, the stock photo company said it believes that Stability AI “unlawfully copied and processed millions of images protected by copyright” to train its software and that Getty Images has “commenced legal proceedings in the High Court of Justice in London” against the firm.

Getty Images CEO Craig Peters told The Verge in an interview that the company has issued Stability AI with a “letter before action” — a formal notification of impending litigation in the UK. (The company did not say whether legal proceedings would take place in the US, too.)

“The driver of that [letter] is Stability AI’s use of intellectual property of others — absent permission or consideration — to build a commercial offering of their own financial benefit,” said Peters. “We don’t believe this specific deployment of Stability’s commercial offering is covered by fair dealing in the UK or fair use in the US. The company made no outreach to Getty Images to utilize our or our contributors’ material so we’re taking an action to protect our and our contributors’ intellectual property rights.”

When contacted by The Verge, a press representative for Stability AI, Angela Pontarolo, said the “Stability AI team has not received information about this lawsuit, so we cannot comment.”

The lawsuit marks an escalation in the developing legal battle between AI firms and content creators for credit, profit, and the future direction of the creative industries. AI art tools like Stable Diffusion rely on human-created images for training data, which companies scrape from the web, often without their creators’ knowledge or consent. AI firms claim this practice is covered by laws like the US fair use doctrine, but many rights holders disagree and say it constitutes copyright violation. Legal experts are divided on the issue but agree that such questions will have to be decided for certain in the courts. (This past weekend, a trio of artists launched the first major lawsuit against AI firms, including Stability AI itself.)

Getty Images CEO Peters compares the current legal landscape in the generative AI scene to the early days of digital music, where companies like Napster offered popular but illegal services before new deals were struck with license holders like music labels.

“We think similarly these generative models need to address the intellectual property rights of others, that’s the crux of it,” said Peters. “And we’re taking this action to get clarity.” 

Although the creators of some AI image tools (like OpenAI) refuse to disclose the data used to create their models, Stable Diffusion’s training dataset is open source. An independent analysis of the dataset found that Getty Images and other stock image sites constitute a large portion of its contents, and evidence of Getty Images’ presence can be seen in the AI software’s tendency to recreate the company’s watermark.

Although companies like Stability AI deny any legal or ethical hazard in creating their systems, they have still begun making concessions to content creators. Stability AI says artists will be able to opt-out of the next version of Stable Diffusion, for example. In a recent tweet about the company’s training datasets, Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque said “I believe they are ethically, morally and legally sourced and used,” before adding: “Some folks disagree so we are doing opt out and alternate datasets/models that are fully cc.”

The full details of Getty Images’ lawsuit have not yet been made public, but Peters said that charges include copyright violation and violation of the site’s terms of service (in particular, web scraping). Andres Guadamuz, an academic specializing in AI and intellectual property law at the UK’s University of Sussex, told The Verge it seemed like the case would have “more merit” than other existing AI lawsuits, but that “the devil will be in the details.”

Link to the rest at The Verge

PG’s understanding is that AI art generators don’t keep any copies of the images they use. His understanding is that an image is quickly analyzed and a mathematical hash is created.

If PG’s understanding is correct, Stability AI used an Open Source dataset and, perhaps, kept a copy of the original photos/artwork on its servers afterwards.

If this is the case, PG thinks it was stupidity on the part of management at Stability AI to keep a copy after creating hashes from it. While he thinks it would still qualify as fair use under US patent law, keeping a literal copy of the photos after processing them strengthens Getty’s case.

Getty is suing in the UK because Stability AI is located there, so PG’s comments, based on his understanding of US copyright laws may not cover differences between UK and US laws governing this matter. He will note that both the UK and US have entered into the two major international copyright agreements – The Universal Copyright Convention (UCC), adopted in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1952, and The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne), in 1882.

Getty is also aggressive in suing for improper use of photos in their collection, even if the photos are in the public domain and, thus, not protected by copyright. See here for one relatively recent example. And here for another take on the same facts.

PG is going to be following this lawsuit as it progresses and would welcome hearing from visitors to TPV if they find any interesting pieces discussing the dispute – Contact PG at the top of TPV will let you send him an email.

Progress Through Experiment

From The Wall Street Journal:

By the end of the 19th century, physicists thought they had things pretty well figured out. Everything in the universe was made of various types of “atoms,” which they believed were the smallest possible units of matter. Newton’s laws of motion, combined with the new science of electromagnetism, could predict how these immutable atoms would behave, whether they formed the mass of a planet or the parts in an electric motor. “Now only the details were left to explore,” writes Suzie Sheehy in her absorbing scientific history, “The Matter of Everything: How Curiosity, Physics and Improbable Experiments Changed the World.

. . . .

By the 1960s, particle physics had grown from tabletop experiments to industrial-scale operations. Instead of a handful of known sub-atomic particles there would soon be more than 100. And to find the next ones, researchers needed bigger accelerators, more power, more people—and more money. Eventually, the cost of the largest particle accelerators became too much for any single country to bear.

This is where Suzie Sheehy enters the story. As a young physics student, she worked briefly at CERN, the multinational research center near Geneva, Switzerland. At the time, CERN was finishing construction of the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC is the largest particle accelerator ever built and the biggest science experiment in history, involving some 10,000 scientists and technicians and a total investment of more than $10 billion.

In 2012 Ms. Sheehy watched a live-feed as CERN project leaders made a long-awaited announcement: They had confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, a particle predicted four decades earlier by the British physicist Peter Higgs. The discovery resolved some of the biggest quandaries in today’s Standard Model of particle physics. “The camera zoomed in on eighty-two-year-old Peter Higgs as a tear rolled down his cheek,” she recalls.

Does this mean the mysteries of physics are nearly answered? Is there anything left to discover? Ms. Sheehy argues that—despite all the discoveries of the past 125 years—our universe remains full of enigmas. Every day, she writes, physicists like her find reasons to go to their labs “looking for something that makes us go ‘hmm . . . that’s strange.’”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Amazing Ways Google And Grammarly Use Artificial Intelligence To Improve Your Writing

From Forbes (in 2018):

While online editing tools such as Grammarly and grammar suggestions from Google Docs aren’t foolproof, the artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that power them are successfully improving the way many of us write. In the process, it saved millions of embarrassing errors caused by carelessness (there vs. they’re) and, of course, caught mistakes that involved more challenging grammar rules. Whether we write an email, a text or something more formal, even professionals use these editing tools to detect errors before they mistakenly get broadcast. To really appreciate the technology that makes these editing tools possible, let’s take a look at these services and the impressive ways they improve our writing.

Grammarly: The Leader of the Pack

Since its 2009 inception, cloud-based Grammarly has grown to more than 15 million daily active users and is often one of the top-ranked grammar checkers. Users can download the Grammarly Keyboard for their mobile devices, add an extension to Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge, use the Grammarly Desktop App or download a plug-in for Microsoft Office so the algorithm can spell and grammar check on Word, social media and Outlook. Grammarly switched from a subscription-only model to a freemium model in 2015 to provide more access to users.

How does it work? Just like with other machine learning algorithms, Grammarly’s artificial intelligence system was originally provided with a lot of high-quality training data to teach the algorithm by showing it examples of what proper grammar looks like. This text corpus—a huge compilation human researchers organized and labeled so the AI could understand it—showed, as an example, not only proper uses of punctuation, grammar and spelling, but incorrect applications so the machine could learn the difference. In addition, Grammarly’s system uses natural language processing to analyze every nuance of language down to the character level and all the way up to words and full paragraphs of text.

The feedback the system gets through humans when they ignore a proposed suggestion helps the system get smarter and provides the human linguists working with the input of the machine on how to make the system better. The more text it is exposed to, the better it can make appropriate suggestions. That’s one of the reasons the company switched in 2010 to a consumer service from targeting enterprise customers so it would have access to a larger data set and a more significant opportunity.

In 2017, investors General Catalyst, IVP and Spark Capital committed $110 million to the already profitable company to help it further enhance its capabilities. Although the company has made great strides in improving grammar, grammatically correct writing doesn’t necessarily mean it is compelling or concise. So, although the company has a history of adding new checks such as to identify vagueness or plagiarism to improve your writing, expect this new infusion of funds to allow the company to add staff in an effort to continue improvements to its algorithm and the editing it can do. It has adequately tackled the basic mechanics of writing from spelling, grammar, and sentence structure as well as being able to help with clarity and readability of text. The next frontier is to provide context-specific suggestions.

Grammar Suggestions: Google Docs’ AI Grammar Checker

Grammarly may have recently introduced an extension of their own to work with Google Docs, but Google wants to get their own skin in the game with its grammar suggestions product. Google is using machine translation, the same tech they use to translate from one language to another (and one it has said approached human levels of accuracy), to power its editing tool. Instead of language to language, it translates poorly written text into grammatically correct text. If the system identifies a grammar issue, it will highlight it similar to how the spell check functionality works, so you have a chance to review possible grammar errors before hitting “send” or “publish.” 

Link to the rest at Forbes – in 2018

25 Best AI Writing Software For 2023 (Best Picks)

From Demand Sate:

Are you looking for the best AI Writing Software available on the internet? Well, you’re at the right place to get the answer to this question.

Creating unique content has become more complex than ever in this digital era. The competition is increasing day by day, and it has become really tidy to find the time to write unique content. That’s where AI writing software comes in. The best part about using these tools is that they can quickly reduce your stress and make it really easy for you to write content.

It can boost your production time and make your writing error-free. But it is tough to choose one tool among all these AI Writing tools available on the internet. That’s why I curated a handpicked list of the seven best AI Writing Software for you. 

. . . .

Here is our top 5 recommended AI Writing Software:

  1. Jasper – The Best AI Writing Software
  2. Grammarly – Best For Proofreading & Grammar Checking
  3. CopySmith – Best AI Writer For E-Commerce
  4. INK For All – Best For SEO
  5. LongShot AI – Best AI Writer For Creating Long-Form Content

If you still haven’t been able to decide from our top 5 list then don’t worry. We have curated a list of the 21 best AI Writing software to help you decide. We have included their overview, key features, and pricing. We have also mentioned if these tools offer a free trial or not. So without further ado let’s dive into the list.

1. Jasper (Formerly Known As Jarvis)

Jasper Ai is a fantastic AI-powered writing assistant because it completely changes your text into a unique version. It allows you to write blog posts, articles, and poems, and it will also generate content automatically to match your writing style & tone. The Jasper command gives you the power to write content automatically. You just need to begin the sentence, and Jasper will finish it for you.

. . . .

This is an automated process that ensures proper grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. You can also create images with your words on Jasper. It completely turns your word into images, and they won’t be random images. These images will contain the text you’ve written with a proper background. They have announced to change the name of the AI from Jarvis to Jasper on the 24th Of January 2022 because of a conflict with Disney (Marvel). We — DemandSage highly recommend Jasper for content curation.

. . . .

2. Grammarly

Grammarly is one of the best AI writing software in my experience because it improves your writing skill on the go. It shows grammatical errors whenever you’re writing a piece of content. Grammarly can check your content in multiple languages, such as UK, US, and Australian English.

You can also check the plagiarism of your content on Grammarly. It also gives you suggestions whenever you’re writing to improve the quality of your content. It also comes with a Chrome extension which allows you to check any piece of content you write online. These many checks make it really easy to write content without having to worry about wrong grammar or wrong sentences.

Key Features:

  • Multi-Language Support
  • Secure Browser Add-On
  • Complete AI-Based Checking
  • Contextual Error, Grammar, and Spelling Checking
  • Integrate With All The Business Apps
  • Tone and Style Checker
  • Plagiarism Checker
  • Readability Metrics
  • Content Quality Score
  • Use It On Mobile And Desktop

Link to the rest at Demand Sage

PG had never thought about Grammarly as an AI program until relatively recently. Perhaps it’s because Grammarly was founded in 2009, long before AI was a buzzword and PG has been a fan and user for a very long time.

As he reviews the changes in Grammarly over time, it was definitely not of AI caliber at first, but he has definitely seen a lot of ongoing work to make the program much more intelligent than other grammar-checking programs are.

He has used ProWritingAid on occasion in the past and found it to be quite good at pure grammar-checking. When he first tried it, the program seemed faster than Grammarly was at the time.

However, for the past several years, he’s moved back to Grammarly because of its increasing coverage of a lot of writing errors or problems that are not strictly about grammar.

PG would be interested in comments from visitors to TPV about their experience with this category of software. And, perhaps, their opinions about whether Grammarly qualifies as Artificial Intelligence or not.

US HarperCollins Union to host second rally outside News Corp marking 50 days of strike action 

FromThe Bookseller:

The HarperCollins Union in the US has announced plans to host another rally outside parent company News Corp’s Manhattan office to mark the 50th business day of the strike.

Taking place at 12:30 p.m. on 18th January, it follows an initial rally held on 16th December. Negotiations between management and the union began in December 2021 and in October 2022 union members overwhelmingly voted for another strike, following a one-day walk-out in July, to take place from 10th November.

In November, more than 150 literary agents signed an open letter pledging not to submit new projects to HarperCollins US in support of workers at the company who are on strike.

In December, HarperCollins president and c.e.o. Brian Murray issued an open letter to the agents and authors who had contacted the company calling for better pay and working conditions, noting that the company was, “with the entire industry”, having to “contend with ongoing challenges to publishing and its underlying economics”. He said the financial requests made by the union “which are many and far reaching, fail to account for the market dynamics of the publishing industry and our responsibility to meet the financial demands of all our business stakeholders – including all employees, authors, and booksellers”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Just the Facts? Not In Historical Fiction.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

When I pitched One Woman’s War: A Novel of the Real Miss Moneypenny in October 2020, I had no idea that Operation Mincemeat, a movie about the same subject matter, would be released in early 2022, just a few months before One Woman’s War was due out.

Both fictional works are based on a real British Naval Intelligence operation of World War II, where a corpse dressed as a royal marine was left in waters off the coast of Spain. The deceased marine carried papers suggesting that the European invasion would take place via Greece, rather than the true landing point of Sicily. Spoiler: German spies got hold of the documents and Hitler fell for the ruse, diverting troops from Sicily to Greece. Many thousands of Allied lives were saved as a result.

There have since been several retellings of this eccentric operation. The truth has all of the trappings of a good, old-fashioned spy story, perhaps because the mastermind behind it was destined to become one of the best-known thriller writers of all time: James Bond author Ian Fleming. When real events unfold like fiction, it becomes the task of the fiction writer to make those real events seem plausible. But do authors of historical fiction have a greater duty to readers not to stray too far from the truth than filmmakers have to their audiences?

Avid readers of historical fiction seem to demand historical accuracy in every particular—or at least in the particulars in which those readers, themselves, happen to be experts. Yet even the keenest historical pedant has low expectations of anything out of Hollywood. These movies exist to entertain not teach.

However, people do expect greater adherence to the facts in novels. They want to experience history. Readers of historical fiction want to see events unfold through the protagonist’s eyes and feel the characters’ emotions. Whether they are conscious of it or not, historical novel readers crave a narrative that has conflict, meaning, and some sort of dramatic arc, even though real life might have a lot of the first and none at all of the second and third.

In the case of Operation Mincemeat, fortunately for screenwriters and authors alike, the bare facts of the strategic effort provide a strong plot. Still, a little creative intervention was needed at certain points to turn those facts into a novel.

A common problem I see in war novels occurs when a significant part of the action takes place in theaters in which none of the main characters are present. This is particularly difficult when writing from a first-person or close-third-person point of view.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Not Writing? Have You Ego-Trapped Yourself?

From Writer Unboxed:

If you’re in a non-writing phase and frustrated, several recent Writer Unboxed posts might speak to your lack of production. They address the seasonal nature of writing careers, the need to respect creative limitations, and how to cope when life gets in the way.

This is all well and good. I support this advice one hundred percent.

But what if, as per Kelsey Allagood’s recent post, some part of you knows fatigue and overwhelm aren’t your issue? What if somehow, despite a calendar that could be cleared and an express desire to write, your efforts can best be described as lackluster? What if encouragement doesn’t help but only deepens your shame and guilt?

Part of you knows you’ve been pulled into a self-destructive and self-sabotaging loop, yet you can’t figure out how to stop.

I’ve been here. It was a nasty experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Thankfully, I worked myself out of it and learned some Jedi mind tricks that have thus far prevented a recurrence. Knock wood.

But recently I stumbled across an evolutionary psychology podcast that might have spared me a good amount of suffering. It explained:

  1. the psychological dynamic at work, dubbed the Ego Trap by Dr. Doug Lisle
  2. why certain circumstances turn self-sabotage into a very sensible strategy, and
  3. potential methods to escape it, or avoid entrapment altogether.

Today, I’d like to paraphrase Dr. Lisle’s theory, then describe how I see it applying to the writing world.

So This Hunter Walks Onto a Plain…

Let’s begin with a story set back in the Stone Age, when evolution shaped humanity’s current brain structure.

Imagine you are an able-bodied male and you’ve just reached the age of sexual maturity. You’re familiar with hunting implements and tactics, and you’ve participated in endless hunting parties with the other men of the village. Until now, between your size and talents, you have served in a supportive role.

Then one day, your spear flies true. You bring down the biggest, baddest beastie of them all.

Tradition demands that your contribution be honored. During tonight’s feast, you are served first, even before the village potentate. And your portion is enormous. Easily the biggest of your life.

Further, your social situation has improved. When you look around the fire, meat juices dribbling down your chin, men eye you with hitherto unfamiliar respect. And a whole cadre of previously inaccessible females are suddenly willing to flirt.

Why the change? Well, from an evolutionary perspective, today’s success signifies you might carry valuable genes their offspring can inherit, and that you’ll be a capable provider to your family and your community.

The Hijacked Brain

Evolutionary psychology says that your brain is an unsentimental cost-benefit calculator. In any given situation at any given time, it looks at available options and chooses the path which optimizes for survival and reproduction. (NOT for happiness, you’ll note, though sometimes happiness and evolutionary priorities can coexist.)

Q: So when the next hunting opportunity arises, how should you react?

A: That depends.

If you are confident in your hunting abilities, you’ll likely be eager to replicate your impressive performance. You’ll do this despite the risks of being trampled or gored because the extended mating and trading opportunities are too substantial to pass up.

If you’re less confident, you’ll be slower to pick up your spear—and perhaps more cautious in its use—but you’ll probably still abide by social norms and participate in the hunt.

But what if part of you thinks your success wasn’t earned? What if you tripped as your spear left your hand, or past athletic efforts indicate that you aren’t that coordinated or talented? Some part of you attributes your success to sheer dumb luck, and you hold little hope of a spontaneous recurrence.

What’s the smart response then?

From a happiness perspective, we should probably go on the hunt while acknowledging our limitations, and help out as we’re able. Then we can work on our self-actualization elsewhere, perhaps in an arena that proves useful to the village, like inventing a more effective spear.

From the evolutionary perspective, however, the only calculus that makes sense is to hang onto your unearned status for as long as possible, using that “stolen” time to gain extra survival resources or impregnate another high-quality female.

That’s why we carry genetic programing that will quietly suggest a delaying strategy. Be exposed for your mediocrity another day, it will urge you. Funnily enough, circumstances will often conspire to assist. (Important: It’s not necessary for this to be a conscious decision. In fact, it often isn’t.)

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The Half-Madness of Prince Harry

From The Wall Street Journal:

Prince Harry’s book is odd. There’s even something half-mad about it.

He opens with a dramatic meeting at Frogmore, his former mansion on the grounds of Windsor. It is just after the death of Prince Philip, Harry’s paternal grandfather. For months Harry has been estranged from his father, Charles, and his brother, William—a “full-scale public rupture.” Harry has flown in from America and requested a meeting. The day is overcast, chilly. Charles and William arrive late looking “grim, almost menacing,” and “tightly aligned.” “They’d come ready for a fight.” Harry is tongue-tied, vulnerable, leaves heartbroken. “I wanted peace. I wanted it more than anything.”

You feel such sympathy. What could have driven them so far apart? Why are Charles and William so cold? Then you realize, wait—Philip died just a month after the Oprah interview in which Harry rather coolly portrayed his family as remote and hapless puppets and implied they were racist.

Harry forgets, in the opening, to tell us that part. But you can see how it might have left Charles and William a little indignant.

This is the book’s great flaw, that Harry doesn’t always play it straight, that he thinks “my truth” is as good as the truth. There are other flaws, and they grate. There’s a heightened-ness to his language—he never leaves a place; he flees it “in fear for our sanity and physical safety.” He often finds his wife “sobbing uncontrollably” on the floor and the stairs, mostly over what he fails to realize are trivial things. He is grandiose: “My mother was a princess, named after a goddess.” “How would I be remembered by history? For the headlines? Or for who I actually was?” Lord, he was an attractive man fifth in line for a largely ceremonial European throne; it would hardly remember him at all. (Unless he wrote a scalding book and destabilized the monarchy!) He repeatedly points out that he’s a Windsor and of royal blood. His title means a lot to him. He is exhibitionistic: “My penis was oscillating between extremely sensitive and borderline traumatized.” (Frostbite.)

There are gaps in his knowledge-base that wouldn’t be irritating if he weren’t intent on establishing that he’s giving you the high-class rarefied inside dope. “Never complain, never explain” has been an expression of the old American upper class since forever, and I’m sure the British one too. It isn’t special to the Windsors. “An heir and a spare” is old Fleet Street tabloidese. It doesn’t mean, as he suggested on book tour, he was bred for body parts.

Famous families often have internal communication problems. The children of those families learn much of what they know from the many books written about the clan. They internalize and repeat observations and stories that aren’t quite right but are now given their insider imprimatur.

Harry’s anecdotes tend to undermine the institution of the monarchy. When he was a teenager Britain’s biggest tabloid told the palace it had evidence he was doing drugs. In fact, as Harry tells us candidly, he did do drugs when he was young. The palace, no doubt knowing this, opted to “play ball” with the newspaper and not deny all aspects of the story. This made Harry feel thrown under the bus.

His father, he believes, used him as a “sacrifice,” to appease a powerful editor and bolster his own sagging reputation. “No more the unfaithful husband, Pa would now be presented to the world as the harried single dad coping with a drug-addled child.” He reports Charles and his wife, Camilla, were jealous of William and Kate’s “drawing attention away from them.” His stories of jealousy sound like projection. But they also make the book feel less like “Clown Turns on Circus” than something more deadly, especially just before Charles’s coronation this May.

Harry accuses the tabloids of violating his privacy, and no doubt they often did. What is almost unbelievable is that he is so unmoored and destabilized by this inevitable aspect of fame, especially royal fame. He implies he left Britain primarily because of the newspapers and their criticism of his wife.

But the odd, half-mad thing about this book is that in it he violates his own privacy, and that of others, more than Fleet Street ever could.

He is careful throughout to say he is telling his story in order to help others, those who’ve struggled with mental illness or been traumatized by war. It is hard to know another person’s motives; it can be hard to know your own. But I don’t think this book is about others. I think it’s about his own very human desire for revenge, to hurt those who’ve hurt him. And to become secure in a certain amount of wealth. And to show his family and Fleet Street that their favorite ginger-haired flake could make his own way, set up his own palace, break free, fly his own standard, become the duke of Netflix. This book is classic Fredo: “I can handle things. I’m smart. Not like everybody says, like dumb, I’m smart and I want respect!”

It is all so contradictory. He says he wants reconciliation but writes things that alienate, he says he reveres the monarchy and isn’t trying to bring it down but he has gone beyond removing bricks from the facade and seems to be going at the bearing walls.

I close with a thought on privacy. Prince Harry violates his own. He tells us too much about himself and others.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

For visitors from overseas, The Wall Street Journal is by far the largest-circulation newspaper in the United States. In daily print circulation WSJ is about twice as large as that of the New York Times. USA today has a larger print circulation than the Times does.

If you combine print products, digital subscriptions and other papers that include their branded content, USA Today is in first place, WSJ is in second place and NYT is third. USA Today’s circulation numbers includes a large percentage of readers/viewers who read the paper at no charge.

The author of the OP is Peggy Noonan, long-time WSJ columnist, Pulitzer prize winner, author of nine books on American politics, history and culture. Noonan was a special assistant and speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. She has also been a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, and has taught in the history department at Yale University. Prior to entering the Reagan White House, Noonan was a producer and writer at CBS News in New York and an adjunct of Journalism at New York University.

PG has enjoyed Ms. Noonan’s commentary for a long time.

Atticus said to Jem one day

Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Commenting Problems

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And when the war’s over

And when the war’s over, someday, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know and we’ll set it up in type until another Dark Age, when we might have to do the whole damn thing over again. But that’s the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and worth doing.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Laurie McLean’s Crystal Ball: Publishing Predictions for 2023

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Well, to say a lot happened in publishing last year is a severe understatement.

Simon and Schuster Merger that Wasn’t

Among the legal news, the biggest merger in publishing history — Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon and Schuster, aka the antitrust trial — got nixed by the courts. And PRH ended any speculation that a merger would happen after that, basically taking it off the table.

S&S’s parent company reinforced that they are still looking for a buyer. HarperCollins and Hachette are being thrown around as potential suitors. But S&S may also end up with a private equity firm who sells off parts of the business to turn a profit (man, I hope this doesn’t happen!).

Digital Content Law

Publishers successfully challenged Maryland’s Digital Content Law that sought to force publishers to license ebooks and audiobooks on “reasonable terms” for library lending. And two longshot lawsuits against Amazon and the Big Five for price fixing were thrown out (mostly) by a judge.

Book Banning

And book banning went into overdrive, no pun intended, in 2022. I don’t understand it. If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. But don’t tell me what I can or cannot read. If you don’t like what your kid’s teacher is assigning, talk to the teacher.

But to statewide ban a book because its ideas scare you or it has a picture of a naked comic animal (yes, Maus was banned because of that), the problem might be you instead of the book. Ahem.

Good News

But there was good news as well. Sales for print books, digital books and audiobooks continued on pace with the great sales of the prior two years. With an especially long week before Christmas, sales skyrocketed to end the year on an up note. In the final sales week of the year, NPD BookScan recorded print sales of approximately 16.3 million units, which was well ahead of previous years.

However hardcover sales declined more than 10% to just below 2020 figures, and print books in total were down 6.5% from the prior year, so that might affect the total revenue for publishers. (Note that these figures only go up until October 2022, so we might still end the year even or down a bit from the previous year’s sales. I’m not worried, however.)

. . . .

Now on to my Publishing Predictions for 2023:

Book sales will stay even or just a bit less than prior years. I don’t see a lot of changes happening in 2023 as compared to 2024.

Audiobooks

Audiobooks will continue to sell well. People like them. They both read and listen to books. I see tremendous upside still in this market.

Supply chain issues will level out as new solutions are found, so that will cease to be as much of a problem for publishing as it has been since 2020. If this happens, publishing will not be so nervous about slipping publication dates and the inability to resupply if a title sells surprisingly well.

Paper Prices Advance Digital Sales

Paper prices are still rising, so publishers might finally start looking at digital books (ebooks) as a profit center rather than another format. I mean, c’mon. Why can’t we have several versions of a book in digital form: an author’s cut with extra material at a premium price, a quick-read simple version for less money, a kid’s version of the adult book. It’s all possible for very little effort or money if the parties are willing. Seems like a no brainer to me.

Self-Publishing Thrives

Self-publishing authors, take heart! Readers are finding your books. And since you own all the rights and subrights, you can experiment by changing covers, fixing copyediting mistakes, adding a sequel or prequel to your series, etc., etc. Build your fan base through meaningful conversations with your readers and they will reward you by buying everything you write.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG notes that the self-published authors he hears from continued to do just fine in 2022 and intend to have another successful year during 2023.

Every book deserves to be heard.

From Apple Books for Authors:

Empowering indie authors and small publishers

More and more book lovers are listening to audiobooks, yet only a fraction of books are converted to audio — leaving millions of titles unheard. Many authors — especially independent authors and those associated with small publishers — aren’t able to create audiobooks due to the cost and complexity of production. Apple Books digital narration makes the creation of audiobooks more accessible to all, helping you meet the growing demand by making more books available for listeners to enjoy.

Digital narration technology 

Apple Books digital narration brings together advanced speech synthesis technology with important work by teams of linguists, quality control specialists, and audio engineers to produce high-quality audiobooks from an ebook file. Apple has long been on the forefront of innovative speech technology, and has now adapted it for long-form reading, working alongside publishers, authors, and narrators. For information on how you can take advantage of this new technology, see the How to get started section below.

Digitally narrated titles are a valuable complement to professionally narrated audiobooks, and will help bring audio to as many books and as many people as possible. Apple Books remains committed to celebrating and showcasing the magic of human narration and will continue to grow the human-narrated audiobook catalog. 

Voices 

Our digital voices are created and optimized for specific genres. We’re starting with fiction and romance, and are accepting ebook submissions in these genres. Hear samples of voices available for these genres below, or check out the full books in our audiobooks store.

. . . .

Sign up with a preferred partner

Apple’s preferred partners make the digitally narrated audiobook production and distribution process simple. 

Draft2Digital: Independent authors currently selling ebooks directly on Apple Books or through Draft2Digital can work with them to produce and distribute audiobooks narrated by Apple Books.

Ingram CoreSource: Existing and new publishing clients can work with Ingram to produce and distribute audiobooks narrated by Apple Books.

Link to the rest at Apple Books for Authors

The OP contains audio samples from four different AI narrators.

To PG, who’s not an audiobook expert, the samples sound pretty good. These are early days for Artificial Intelligence. PG expects to see more interesting and commercially successful AI programs during 2023.

PG is happy to be corrected by those more familiar with audiobooks, but he doesn’t think an audiobook narrator is the equivalent of a voice actor. In the audiobooks PG has listened to (not many) the narrator pretty much fades into the background and doesn’t have the sort of unique voice or delivery PG associates with a voice actor.

The video provides some voice actor examples.

Do Androids Tell Electric Stories?

From Slate:

When Apple quietly launched a catalog of A.I.-narrated audiobooks early in January, it was surprising news, and it wasn’t. Robot narrators are not new: Alexa provides text-to-speech for Kindle content and Google offers a suite of artificial voices of various genders and accents for those wishing to publish “auto-narrated” audiobooks.

The difference is that Apple’s four voices—“Madison” and “Jackson” suggested for fiction, “Helena” and “Mitchell” for nonfiction—sound much more natural than the digitally generated voices available elsewhere, leading to fears that they could replace human narrators altogether. A few of Apple’s voices are even noticeably similar to the voices of well-known members of the community of human audiobook narrators. “There’s a little tension there,” Edoardo Ballerini told me. “There has been a sense that narrators should stay away from this, that they shouldn’t participate in the hastening of their colleagues’ demise.”

Ballerini, profiled in the New York Times as “the voice of God,” is among the coterie of star narrators whose performances have become a selling point in themselves. (Knowing that I’ll get to hear the text read in Ballerini’s soulful voice has certainly prompted me to buy an audiobook when I was otherwise on the fence.) Ballerini said he hasn’t been approached yet with an offer to provide the velvety building blocks for an A.I. version of his own voice, but “I know other people who have, and some have refused. Others, it sounds like, did not.”

For Emily Woo Zeller—narrator of Marie Kondo’s bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and winner of AudioFile magazine’s 2020 Golden Voice award—the issue is more existential. By providing recordings that help artificial intelligence learn to speak more naturally, she noted, narrators are participating in “another level of giving the voice away.”

Because Apple’s A.I. narration is shrouded in secrecy and (presumably) NDAs, there’s no confirmed account of how the narrators behind the voices for Madison, et al., were compensated. But Zeller pointed to the example of Susan Bennett, who unwittingly provided the voice for the original Siri, Apple’s digital personal assistant. Because the recordings that became the basis for Siri were commissioned by another company for another purpose, Bennett, who received a one-time payment, didn’t even know that she’d become the voice of a million iPhones until a friend alerted her to the similarity when Siri was introduced six years later. (Apple has never confirmed whose voice was the basis for Siri, but an audio-forensics expert consulted by CNN expressed “100 percent” certainty that it’s Bennett.)

In the absence of solid intel on Apple’s contracts with the actors it used, members of the professional narrator community are concerned they’ll be the next to be Siri-ized. They worry, as Zeller puts it, that “we get paid one sum and the producer or publisher owns that work and everything related to it forever and ever,” effectively taking possession of the narrator’s distinctive voice.

. . . .

Part of the problem is that the types of titles that seem most likely to receive A.I. narration—older or self-published books unlikely to sell enough copies to make compensating a human narrator affordable—tend to be fiction, and the A.I. narrators are simply terrible at fiction. The majority of these audiobooks are romances and thrillers. It’s hard to imagine romance fans thrilling to dialogue from one of the genre’s sexy alpha heroes when it’s recited in the earnest female voice of Madison, which seems by far to be the most popular of Apple’s four options. Likewise, I listened to the in medias res opening scene of a thriller in which the narrator and his lover (some kind of scientist, perhaps) are setting off a gigantic rocket on a hill overlooking London. “ ‘Don’t let go of me!’ she shouted,” recited Jackson with zombie-like placidity.

Link to the rest at Slate

Markus Dohle’s Big Flop: What Penguin Random House’s Failed Bid to Eat S&S Means for Publishing

From New York Magazine:

he National Book Awards are the Oscars of the publishing industry, although nobody who attended the ceremony on November 16 at Cipriani Wall Street would likely confuse the two. Still, it wasn’t without its glamour and drama. That night, Padma Lakshmi, best-selling author and former wife of Salman Rushdie — who only a few months before had been nearly murdered for his writing — was the host. Her yellow strapless dress was conspicuously adorned with a union button in solidarity with the striking HarperCollins staffers picketing out on the sidewalk. But all eyes were on Markus Dohle, the tuxedo-clad CEO of Penguin Random House who had for 14 years been the most powerful and successful publishing warlord in the room.

PRH had become the biggest publisher in the game after a 2013 merger, led by Dohle, that saw Random House gobble up Penguin. The combined company had cast a long shadow over its four smaller rivals — Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster — but Dohle wanted more and had spent much of the past two years fighting to buy S&S in order to create a world-spanning leviathan.

Few in the room had wanted the $2.175 billion S&S merger to happen. Already most felt that PRH had become too bureaucratic, too unwieldy, and they worried that competition among book buyers would be hobbled further if it went through. Many had cheered on the antitrust hawks of President Biden’s Department of Justice who sued to block the deal’s consummation. After a bruising, and in some ways humiliating, trial, Dohle had been denied his ambitions by the court. But more importantly, in the process, his imperial publishing house’s weaknesses had been laid bare for all to see.

“People were trying to decide if they still needed to kiss the ring,” recalls one top executive who was at the dinner that night, “or if there was even a ring left to kiss.”

Though Dohle had declared his intention to appeal the court’s decision, it was looking like a long shot, and Cipriani was humming with Schadenfreude. And then, sure enough, come Monday, the deal was officially pronounced dead after S&S was yanked off the table by its parent company, Paramount. Three weeks later, on December 9, Dohle resigned.

Whether the demolition of the S&S deal was going to be good or bad for the actual making of books remains another question entirely. And whoever does end up getting S&S — it’s back on the market — won’t be as well known or as well liked as Dohle.

“He brought an optimism and energy to the business during fragile moments,” said book agent and Dohle pal Elyse Cheney, “but, you know, the last year and a half has been very tough.” Paul Bogaards, the well-known book publicist who worked for 32 years at Knopf (which is part of PRH) before striking out on his own, told me that “many of the suits in publishing are tone-deaf to the needs and wants of the people who help make the business run. Markus has had a great, historic career in publishing. But he failed to read the room when it came to the merger.”

. . . .

Random House, the most storied of American publishing houses, had been acquired by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann in 1998 and merged with Bantam Doubleday Dell. It was the era of corporate consolidation in books, accompanied by much grumbling at the time about the perceived lack of competition and a fear of a creeping cultural blandness. Still, publishing adapted.

In 2008, Bertelsmann put Dohle in charge of Random House. Nobody was quite sure what to make of him. Markets were tanking and people were declaring the end of print. (Remember that brave new world of Kindles and Nooks?) Dohle, then 39, was not a book editor. He had trained as an engineer and had been running Bertelsmann’s highly profitable printing division, which was so far from any sort of glamour that it was nicknamed “Siberia” within Bertelsmann.

But he soon proved to have an intuitive understanding of the business, and his mechanical background allowed him to grow out a muscular distribution infrastructure that became the envy of other publishers. He counterintuitively championed the physical book. And once he achieved the 2013 deal that combined Random House with Penguin, he found himself ruling over a global juggernaut with 11 branch CEOs reporting to him from midtown to Madrid. He became the figurehead of the industry, and he turned out to be a larger-than-life character in a contracting industry that had been wanting for them. Even the most jaded New York editor found it hard not to be at least a little charmed. “He’s like our Arnold Schwarzenegger,” said one.

Dohle, now 54, grew into the job. His house is up in Scarsdale, but he would make it a point to drop in on book parties around the city. He sat on the board of PEN America alongside Masha Gessen and Jennifer Egan, became tight with Dan Brown and Andrew Solomon, and personally negotiated Barack Obama’s book deal.

The guy had banked a lot of goodwill. But before long, there were whispers that Dohle had made PRH so big that it was inefficient. It was losing market share to more nimble competitors. When Paramount put S&S on the market — a book publisher doesn’t exactly fit into a corporate vision predicated on streaming services — Dohle seemed to see a potential merger as a way to make up for market-share loss through brute-force consolidation.

After announcing his intent to buy S&S, things started to go wrong for him straightaway. Organizations such as the American Booksellers Association that ordinarily have good relationships with PRH generally and Dohle personally began publicly trashing the merger. On the eve of the trial, the president of the Authors Guild, Douglas Preston, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times slamming the merger.

. . . .

The DOJ sued to block the deal, arguing that the big five being reduced to a big four would leave too much buying power in the hands of too few, screwing over authors. (PRH, ready to defend the deal, hired the same legal team that had successfully shepherded the AT&T and TimeWarner merger to completion.) The case was handled by Judge Florence Y. Pan, a Biden appointee; this would be the first case in her new role.

The trial finally began in August 2022. It lasted only three weeks, but for Dohle it was about as long and unhappy as Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The DOJ hinged its case around a tiny sliver of top book deals — the kind that pretty much only the big five can compete on — to show how concentrated power in publishing already is. “Freelance writer” Stephen King took the stand to support the government’s point.

Dohle and his executives were made to explain a lot about how PRH had been operating since the 2013 merger.

Like the other publishing houses, PRH consists of many imprints, each with its own flavor and identity. The imprints are grouped into divisions. (PRH is so dense it consists of 94 imprints — 37 being children’s imprints — spread across seven divisions.) The different divisions operate like separate companies, even though they’re all plugged in to the same corporate infrastructure, jockeying for resources. The main three divisions within PRH are Penguin Publishing Group (imprints include Riverhead, Penguin Classic, Viking, etc.); Random House (its got Ballantine Books, Bantam, Crown Trade, etc.), and the vaunted Knopf Doubleday Group (Alfred A. Knopf, Doubleday, and Pantheon, among others).

The imprints compete for book deals against one another, even if they’re part of the same division. That keeps things hot and competitive and individualistic and creative. Supposedly.

But then the trial revealed that all the different tentacles within PRH were being tangled up to create some kind of publishing kraken. Madeline McIntosh, the CEO whom Dohle had appointed to run the U.S. operation, started to encourage the separate divisions inside PRH to get on the same page while competing against one another for the same book at auction. There was a 2018 document, written by McIntosh, that talked about “increased background coordination in auctions to leverage internal demand information better and avoid internal upbidding.” Such a practice might sound simply like how a corporation would work to you, but book publishing thinks of itself as being on a sort of genteel old-school honor-system version of capitalism. This division coordination that McIntosh was torquing up inside PRH posed a couple of problems.

Link to the rest at New York Magazine