YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED
Rise of the Real World AI Robot Authors
There are no real dinosaurs in my short story The Last Dinosaur. Rather, “The Last Dinosaur” is the title of a book written by the story’s protagonist, Brad Peterson, a crusty, middle-aged science fiction writer who finds himself truly the last of his kind. You see, Brad Peterson writes his own books. He actually thinks up all the words and types them onto the page. In the unspecified near-future time in which the story is set, nobody else does that. Thanks to a software program called Prose-Perfect, the act of “writing” as we know it today has evolved (devolved?) into a cyborgian affair where human “authors” just dream up an idea (the easy part of writing, IMHO), draft a few basic plot points, and upload this scant framework into a computer which then writes the book for them. The bestselling teen and twenty-something authors cranking out ten books a year by this method look on Brad with the disdain kids today might show for someone who refuses to text in favor of tap-tap-tapping a Morse code key.
The story opens in the hospitality-suite of a science fiction convention:
“Art schmart, Brad. No offense, but when was the last time you sold anything?”
Weasels, Brad thought. You’re all weasels. He fixed what he hoped was a superior, unconcerned gaze on the wiry boy sitting before him. The boy fidgeted, looked away. Brad smiled thinly.
“I stay in print,” he said.
But now he noticed that the boy hadn’t turned away in shame; he’d turned to his cronies for support. He’d gotten it. All around the crowded Pro-Party, faces nodded around sly smiles, young authors chuckled behind raised cans of fashionable Say-No Cola. Only one face, a pale girl with brown curls tumbling around her birdlike features, looked on with anything close to sympathy. Brad gave a curt nod. He’d have to work his way in that direction, check her out.
“Sure, Brad, no offense.” The boy paused, letting his condescending tone rattle around the room, echo back from nodding faces. “But realistically, you work for nothing. Gratis. No publisher would buy your stuff anymore. It’s imperfect.”
“It’s real,” Brad shot back.
This game annoyed him. Every convention, the same stupid argument. The same stupid attacks from wet-nosed children riding their fifteen minutes of fame on the Prose-Perfect wave. How could he ever convince them that computer-written stories were a sham? That stories sweated over by a real human writer were superior? That no matter how clever your ideas, to let some machine do the real work…
He let his eyes move slowly over the sea of young faces surrounding him. Up-and-comers. Major novelists. The room was gleaming with science fiction’s brightest stars. And not one of them over thirty. There was probably not a person in the room who’d ever even read a man-produced story. That was all before their time…
I stuck a 2015 copyright notice on The Last Dinosaur when I busted my 2008 short story collection A World In Edgewise into individual “books” for Kindle Unlimited. I mention this fact because science fiction doesn’t seem very prescient when the technology driving the story already exists in the real world.
That’s right. My 2008 story predicted what, in the real world of 2016, is well on its way to becoming reality. Prose-Perfect may not exist today in a fully developed form, but it does appear to be in development.
On March 13th, 2015, National Public Radio’s Science Friday aired a segment called Rise of the Bot Author. In the opening interview, Slate senior technology writer Will Oremus described computer programs already in widespread use that transform data sets into written reports for business, and even news stories for Internet sites like Yahoo! News. Drop in some facts, press “go,” and poof, out the other end slides a boring but factual white paper, or a two-paragraph news article written enough like a human reporter that most readers never question.
Have you ever wondered how news stories can appear on the Internet sometimes within an hour or less of an event’s occurrence?
Bots did it. You have almost certainly read dozens of news stories written by computers. Bet you didn’t notice.
“Big deal!” you might respond. “That’s just reporting, not real writing. I’m not a journalist — I’m an AUTHOR!”
Don’t get too comfortable on your high horse.
The next part of Rise of the Bot Author was an interview with artificial intelligence researchers Mark Riedl and Tony Veale. They’ve created a program called Scheherazade that does what the news-bots do, only for fiction. Drop in a setting and some characters, throw in a few plot points, and poof, out the other end slides a fully composed story. Not necessarily a great work of literature, but give them a year. Robo-Hemingway can’t be far behind.
Here’s a sample of what Scheherazade can do right now. Riedle and Veale fed the program two characters, John and Sally, and set the scene — a movie date.
With sweaty palms and heart racing, John drove to Sally’s house for their first date. Sally, her pretty white dress flowing in the wind, carefully entered John’s car. John and Sally drove to the movie theatre. John and Sally parked the car in the parking lot. Wanting to feel prepared, John had already bought tickets to the movie in advance. A pale-faced usher stood before the door; John showed the tickets and the couple entered. Sally was thirsty so John hurried to buy drinks before the movie started. John and Sally found two good seats near the back. John sat down and raised the arm rest so that he and Sally could snuggle…
Its not art by a long shot, but to be perfectly honest, I’ve read (started, anyway) free Kindle eBooks written on this level (snark, snark).
Admit it, so have you.
The Emerging Future reports that:
Every twelve to eighteen months, computers double their capabilities, and so do the information technologies that use them.
Eighteen to twenty years out, technological advancements will be hundreds of thousands to a million times more advanced.
Imagine Scheherazade in five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. Authors, don’t quit your day jobs.
I take comfort that (SPOILER ALERT!), at the end of The Last Dinosaur, crusty old Brad gets the girl. Computers may take over writing one day — maybe even in my lifetime — but some pleasures will always remain strictly human.
At least I hope so.
Thanks for reading!
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