Note: I meant this to run on Monday, but we were using the monkeys that normally write romance to rebuild the database that hosts our site bitty bit by bitty bit. So enjoy – a bit late.
Thanks to SonomaLass for this link that about raised my eyebrows right off my forehead: PoD publisher uses Artificial Intelligence to develop books, and the total number sold puts him among the top authors on Amazon.com.
Of course, that depends on how you define “Author.”
Philip M. Parker, according to the article, has “generated” over 200,000 books on a staggering variety of topics, some of which contain crossword puzzles in multiple languages, and some of which “collect publicly available information on a subject.” Using computers and a few programming humans, Parker prints them on demand of a customer – individuals who are looking for information and who are not familiar with the internet, or medical libraries who collect “nearly everything he produces.”
The kicker? Paragraph 7, as SonomaLass pointed out:
If this sounds like cheating to the layman’s ear, it does not to Mr. Parker, who holds some provocative — and apparently profitable — ideas on what constitutes a book. While the most popular of his books may sell hundreds of copies, he said, many have sales in the dozens, often to medical libraries collecting nearly everything he produces. He has extended his technique to crossword puzzles, rudimentary poetry and even to scripts for animated game shows.
And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”
Fire the monkeys! Return them to their happy habitats! Our genre of choice will be written by GLaDOS, and other AI computers, because there’s only “so many body parts” about which to write a romance.
Three words: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
The weary part of me who is tired all the time can’t even be bothered to lift her middle finger to the idea that AI could write credible or even readable romance based on a handful of physical descriptors, and the part of me that carries my wallet will still buy books I presume are written by actual people.
And the part of me who likes to wonder “oooh, what if…” is now pondering the previous examples of fiction by AI, as detailed in this 2004 NY Times article:
With little fanfare and (so far) no appearances at Barnes & Noble, computers have started writing without us scribes. They are perfectly capable of nonfiction prose, and while the reputation of Henry James is not yet threatened, computers can even generate brief outbursts of fiction that are probably superior to what many humans could turn out – even those not in master of fine arts programs. Consider the beginning of a short story dealing with the theme of betrayal:
“Dave Striver loved the university – its ivy-covered clocktowers, its ancient and sturdy brick, and its sun-splashed verdant greens and eager youth. The university, contrary to popular opinion, is far from free of the stark unforgiving trials of the business world: academia has its own tests, and some are as merciless as any in the marketplace. A prime example is the dissertation defense: to earn the Ph.D., to become a doctor, one must pass an oral examination on one’s dissertation. This was a test Professor Edward Hart enjoyed giving.”
That pregnant opening paragraph was written by a computer program known as Brutus.1 that was developed by Selmer Bringsjord, a computer scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and David A. Ferrucci, a researcher at I.B.M….
That no computer has yet written the Great American Novel may be because computers are subject to some of the same handicaps that afflict human writers. First, writing is hard! Although computers can work unhindered by free will, bourbon or divorce, such advantages are outweighed by a lack of life experience or emotions. Second, and all too familiar to living writers of fiction, there is no money in it. Unable to teach creative writing or marry rich, computers have to depend on research grants. And why would anyone pay for a computer to do something that humans can still do better for peanuts?
(Note to self: New Rule – do not ask Harlan Ellison to work for peanuts, unless I particularly like having said peanuts forcibly lodged in my delicate flaring nostrils.)
Those who fear their future wages will be garnished by the creative output of HAL – take heart:
Artificial intelligence researchers say computers are far from being what the general public would consider authors.
“There is a continuous spectrum, also known as a slippery slope, between a program that automatically typesets a telephone directory and a program that generates English texts at the level of variety you would expect from a typical human English speaker,” said Chung-chieh Shan, an assistant professor in the computer science department of Rutgers. “The former program is easy to write, the latter program is very difficult; in fact, the holy grail of linguistics. Like Mad-Libs, Parker’s programs probably lie somewhere between the two ends of this spectrum.”
Still, the idea – and the insult – is both fascinating in a repulsive, appalling kind of way.