Fire the Monkeys: AI To Write Romance

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.

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  1. 1
    Lazaraspaste says:

    I’m entirely sure why you would even want a computer to write a story or really anything at all. It makes about as much sense to me as building a robot to dance Swan Lake or building a computer that can sing the blues.

    If you only think of art (in whatever form you fancy) as a utility or a mere money making endeavor then it makes sense to have a machine do it. But art, for most of humanity, is an exercise of expression either of ideas or emotions. Most people don’t write, romance or poetry or really anything, to get rich. They do it because they must. So I guess I’m like “Huh, that’s interesting but why?”

  2. 2
    Esri Rose says:

    This idea has been trotted out before on slow news days. Yes, they can get a computer to write something passably readable, but can they get it to stalk an editor in a restroom? Only then will we be talking about a new world order.

  3. 3

    Talk about formulaic writing!!

    Technical manuals, maybe, but otherwise? I’m not biting…

  4. 4
    Freezair says:

    I’m thinking it’s more than just the cake that’s a lie here.

  5. 5
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Random POV shift + info dumping. Yep, that’s some great writing, Deep Blue. *rolls eyes*

  6. 6
    Ostrea says:

    It’s UltraWord!

  7. 7
    snarkhunter says:

    The real insult to me is the idea that non-fiction prose is somehow “easier” or less imaginative than fiction. It’s the same attitude that led people to argue that Cassie Edwards’s plagiarism was “no big deal” because they were “just” reference texts or “facts.”

    WE WORK JUST AS HARD, DAMN IT! Uh…not that I”m bitter or anything.

    (Now that I’m used to it, I’m starting to love the new format!)

  8. 8
    redstapler says:

    What are you doing, Dave? Don’t

    me on my

    .

  9. 9

    …but can they get it to stalk an editor in a restroom? Only then will we be talking about a new world order.

    hee.

    The real insult to me is the idea that non-fiction prose is somehow “easier” or less imaginative than fiction.

    No one’s saying it’s easier—just soulless. *ducks*

  10. 10
    J.E. Mitch says:

    I tracked down a couple of programs once that generated “stories”.

    They were… less than inspiring.

    Actually, I wonder if I still have either the programs or the generated “stories”…

    (Hi, I’m new here.)

  11. 11
    rebyj says:

    years ago i downloaded something like that off of a P2P to try it out. It was annoying . It’s biggest job seemed to be to take every noun and prompt you for an adjective.

    Hi Elizabeth M! welcome

  12. 12

    Yeah, it’s all fun and flying body parts, until some AI unit comes up with the phrase “Jezebel sucked harder, pulling his eye into her mouth.” and the reader gets creeped out in the middle of her romance read…

  13. 13
    Estrella says:

    It’s the Great Automatic Grammatizer!

    That sound you here ? Roald Dahl spinning so fast he is half way to Adelaide.

  14. 14
    Kalen Hughes says:

    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.”

    Is it just me, or does it sound like he’s cribbing his “books” from the internet (aka plagiarizing them)?

  15. 15
    Comesleep says:

    I would totally dig fiction written by GLaDOS.  I bet it would be fantastic.  Bondage, and neurotoxic gas and cake(but of course there wouldn’t be cake, even though it was on the back cover and all the blurbs went on about how much they liked the scene with the cake).

  16. 16
    Joanna says:

    building a robot to dance Swan Lake

    That actually sounds kind of awesome. I would go to the robot ballet.

  17. 17
    J.E. Mitch says:

    “I’m so GLaD I met you, Insert Subject Name Here…”

  18. 18
    Jackie says:

    Philip Parker is a prime example of all that is wrong with the world and why nobody respects writers or thinks it’s necessary to pay them for their work. I, for one, have no interest in reading any novels, romance or otherwise, written by a computer or robot. It defeats the whole purpose of “creative” writing.

  19. 19
    Rachel says:

    Is it just me, or does it sound like he’s cribbing his “books” from the internet (aka plagiarizing them)?

    Yep, that is what it sounds like (given the number of books he’s “publishing”, I can’t imagine all the content is truly public domain).  Should we hold a countdown to the first lawsuit?

  20. 20
    Laura Kinsale says:

    About time.  I can steal its plots?

  21. 21
    Beth says:

    Sounds a lot like some of my advertising clients who think they can write.
    (Couldn’t recognize a well-written sentence if it bit them on the ass!)

  22. 22

    [

    quote]Is it just me, or does it sound like he’s cribbing his “books” from the internet (aka plagiarizing them)?

    Yep, that is what it sounds like (given the number of books he’s “publishing”, I can’t imagine all the content is truly public domain).  Should we hold a countdown to the first lawsuit?

    I thought it didn’t have to constitute copyright infringement to be plagiarism.  Even stuff in the publis domain shouldn’t be copied and passed off as your own. Or your computer’s…

  23. 23
    R. says:

    So, let me get this straight,…

    … A.I. has a need for self-expression? 

    A.I. needs to explore ideas and share perspectives?  A.I. can plumb the depths of the human condition, and come away enlightened and bearing secret knowledge of the inner workings of the human heart?

    On the surface, the concept almost sounds intriguing.  But it reduces to the reader to a mere consumer of fabricated goods—I suppose for some that’s what it’s all about, and that bottom line is all that matters.

    Where will the poetry of ‘life’ come from, if the A.I. is incapable of writing what it doesn’t know, can’t experience?  Can you imagine the autobiography, particularly a bildungsroman, of an A.I.?

    Yikes.

    And can you imagine this ‘author’ on a date??

    Double yikes.

    else83 – just damn.

  24. 24
    tadalafil says:

    tadalafil 20mg

  25. 25
    Deb Kinnard says:

    What I wanna see is the gorgeous cover where the AI’s boobs are hanging somewhere around the other AI’s crotch, with her looking aggravated and him bored.

    Now THAT will be a cover!

  26. 26
    SusiB says:

    Well, I think some authors are already using this software. And if they don’t, their books make you think they used a plotline-mix and match software when writing them. Not sure if I may name names, but one author comes to mind whose books can only be told apart by the characters’ names. At least those books she wrote since the late 1990s. Although the quantity of “new age” nonsense did seem to rise with each book.

  27. 27
    Rachel says:

    I thought it didn’t have to constitute copyright infringement to be plagiarism.  Even stuff in the public domain shouldn’t be copied and passed off as your own. Or your computer’s…

    Fair enough.  Though I don’t actually know whether he’s passing it off as his own, or whether he’s giving credit to the source material somewhere in the book; I was really just expressing skepticism that absolutely everything he’s publishing is in the public domain.  (200,000 titles—and counting—is quite a lot.)

  28. 28
    Rachel says:

    Apologies, kirsten—you’re right; even in my previous post, I was still conflating the two concepts.  I really shouldn’t post when I’m tired.

  29. 29

    Heck, don’t apologize, Rachel.  Despite their legal definitions, I personally see no real moral distinction between the two. 

    As far as this software is concerned, there’s a difference between “writing” and “regurgitating”.  If all this program does is gather facts, jumble them up and spit them out again, it’s nothing more than literary puke, IMO. To equate computer algorithms with human insight is like comparing factory manufactured melamine to hand-crafted mahogany. Sure, they both make a functional piece of furniture, but…

  30. 30
    orangehands says:

    Yeah, it’s all fun and flying body parts, until some AI unit comes up with the phrase “Jezebel sucked harder, pulling his eye into her mouth.” and the reader gets creeped out in the middle of her romance read…

    AND (from another person)

    What I wanna see is the gorgeous cover where the AI’s boobs are hanging somewhere around the other AI’s crotch, with her looking aggravated and him bored.

    ROTFLMAO. can you two just please collaborate and pass it off as AI? i would so buy that.

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