The Rise of Robot Authors: Is the Writing on the Wall for Human Novelists?

From The Guardian:

Will androids write novels about electric sheep? The dream, or nightmare, of totally machine-generated prose seemed to have come one step closer with the recent announcement of an artificial intelligence that could produce, all by itself, plausible news stories or fiction. It was the brainchild of OpenAI – a nonprofit lab backed by Elon Musk and other tech entrepreneurs – which slyly alarmed the literati by announcing that the AI (called GPT2) was too dangerous for them to release into the wild, because it could be employed to create “deepfakes for text”. “Due to our concerns about malicious applications of the technology,” they said, “we are not releasing the trained model.” Are machine-learning entities going to be the new weapons of information terrorism, or will they just put humble midlist novelists out of business?

. . . .

GPT2 is just using methods of statistical analysis, trained on huge amounts of human-written text – 40GB of web pages, in this case, that received recommendations from Reddit readers – to predict what ought to come next. This probabilistic approach is how Google Translate works, and also the method behind Gmail’s automatic replies (“OK.” “See you then.” “That’s fine!”) It can be eerily good, but it is not as intelligent as, say, a bee.

Right now, novelists don’t seem to have much to fear. Fed the opening line of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” – the machine continued the narrative as follows: “I was in my car on my way to a new job in Seattle. I put the gas in, put the key in, and then I let it run. I just imagined what the day would be like. A hundred years from now. In 2045, I was a teacher in some school in a poor part of rural China. I started with Chinese history and history of science.”

. . . .

Did the AI do any better with Jane Austen? The opening phrase of Pride and Prejudice – “It is a truth universally acknowledged” – provoked the machine to gabble on: “that when a nation is in a condition of civilization, that it is in a great measure the business of its leaders to encourage the habits of virtue, and of industry, and of good order among its people.” This does sound rather like some 19th-century political bloviator, even if a slightly broken version. (The second “that” is redundant, and it should read “in great measure” without the indefinite article.)

. . . .

Is there greater cause to worry further down the literary food chain? There have for a while already been “AI bots” that can, we hear, “write” news stories. All these are, though, are giant automated plagiarism machines that mash together bits of news stories written by human beings. As so often, what is promoted as a magical technological advance depends on appropriating the labour of humans, rendered invisible by AI rhetoric. When a human writer commits plagiarism, that is a serious matter. But when humans get together and write a computer program that commits plagiarism, that is progress.

. . . .

The makers’ announcement that this program is too dangerous to be released is excellent PR, then, but hardly persuasive. Such code, OpenAI warns, could be used to “generate misleading news articles”, but there is no shortage of made-up news written by actual humans working for troll factories. The point of the term “deepfakes” is that they are fakes that go deeper than prose, which anyone can fake. Much more dangerous than disinformation clumsily written by a computer are the real “deepfakes” in visual media that respectable researchers are eagerly working on right now. When video of any kind can be generated that is indistinguishable from real documentary evidence – so that a public figure, for example, can be made to say words they never said – then we’ll be in a world of trouble.

. . . .

Perhaps a more realistic hope for a text-only program such as GPT2, meanwhile, is simply as a kind of automated amanuensis that can come up with a messy first draft of a tedious business report – or, why not, of an airport thriller about famous symbologists caught up in perilous global conspiracy theories alongside lissome young women half their age. There is, after all, a long history of desperate artists trying rule-based ruses to generate the elusive raw material that they can then edit and polish. The “musical dice game” attributed to Mozart enabled fragments to be combined to generate innumerable different waltzes, while the total serialism of mid-20th‑century music was an algorithmic approach that attempted as far as possible to offload aesthetic judgments by the composer on to a system of mathematical manipulations.

. . . .

But until robots have rich inner lives and understand the world around them, they won’t be able to tell their own stories. And if one day they could, would we even be able to follow them? As Wittgenstein observed: “If a lion could speak, we would not understand him”. Being a lion in the world is (presumably) so different from being a human in the world that there might be no points of mutual comprehension at all. It’s entirely possible, too, that if a conscious machine could speak, we wouldn’t understand it either.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG says, “We have a lot of rain in June. Is the buzz dead better than the couple? The maddening kill crawls into the wealthy box. When does the zesty liquid critique the representative?”

(PG’s comments are courtesy of Random Word Generator, TextFixer and Word Generator.

And also:

After leaving the crumpled planet Abydos, a group of girls fly toward a distant speck. The speck gradually resolves into a contented, space tower.

Civil war strikes the galaxy, which is ruled by Brad Willis, a derelict wizard capable of lust and even murder.

Terrified, an enchanted alien known as Michelle Thornton flees the Empire, with her protector, Chloe Noris.

They head for Philadelphia on the planet Saturn. When they finally arrive, a fight breaks out. Noris uses her giant knife to defend Michelle.

(Plot Generator)

Finally, a blurb for a romance novel:

In this story, a serene police chief ends up on the run with a realistic witch-hunter. What starts as professional courtesy unexpectedly turns into a passionate affair.

(Seventh Sanctum)

Click here, then click the Play button to listen to the blurb

(Natural Readers)

15 thoughts on “The Rise of Robot Authors: Is the Writing on the Wall for Human Novelists?”

  1. “Civil war strikes the galaxy, which is ruled by Brad Willis, a derelict wizard capable of lust and even murder.”

    This will be the opening line, and the subject, of my next Regency romance.

  2. “actual humans working for troll factories.”

    This sounds like a good setup for a fantasy story.

  3. It will probably be sufficient to generate hundreds of pages of plagiarism free text, and accompanying relevant reviews, that can be used to scam readers (especially if they take additional time/effort over the first few pages that pop out with a Look Inside).

    Even a cursory sampling of pages by a human reader may be insufficient to curate the flood. It will be interesting to see how Amazon manages detecting such works.

  4. The only thing that matters is readers. If readers like the product, human writers better find another meal ticket. But I’m not worried, computers lack motivation.

    • “… computers lack motivation.”

      But their masters don’t. 😉

      Better for us writers is that the computers lack imagination …

  5. The Big Bang TV show had a great story on a character searching until he actually found Siri in her office. Tall blonde.

    • Oh, but the implications! For me the “capable of lust” implies that there’s something about the condition of being a wizard that would normally render one incapable of that emotion. And perhaps other deep emotions, like the trope that immortals lose their capacity to shift out of “neutral” and into hate or love. In that scenario, Brad has a layer of depth he otherwise wouldn’t.

      But you do have a point; a robot would likely not go with my implication. And that’s why a human novelist will always be better than a robot 🙂

  6. > already been “AI bots” that can, we hear, “write” news stories.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a lot of those. Sentences that are grammatically correct, but not connected to each other. And entire web sites of “content” put together that way.

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