Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Some things we take for granted. Things like, a chicken must have laid the egg that we’re boiling up; that song on Spotify was created by at least one musician; the t-shirt we’re wearing was made by a poor adolescent in Thailand; and what we read was written by a human being.
Well, listen up. “A shocking amount of what we’re reading is created not by humans, but by computer algorithms,” according to this Times article.
True enough that most of the cyborg-text is boilerplate stuff like corporate earnings reports and newswire material that, let’s face it, is as tedious to write as it is to read. But because the algorithms can be programmed to use different tones, like “sassy,” isn’t it just a matter of time before someone tries to peddle us a novel written entirely by software?
Here, take the test provided in the article. One of these paragraphs was written by a human, and the other by an algorithm:
“Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.”
“The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.”
Hard to tell, isn’t it? They’re both pretty plain.
I can imagine, though, a relatively simple novel — yes, a genre novel, because they rely on formulas — being written by an algorithm provided with some basic facts about the characters, setting, period, and category. And I can imagine readers having a tough time knowing that it was not produced by a writer — a real writer.
It’s not a promising future for us real writers, when you think about it. Publishers wish they didn’t have to deal with us as it is; just wait until they can pay data entry clerks a low wage to plunk in details like “single mom, 32 years old, Long Island, husband cheating, murder for hire.” They’ll be able to pump this stuff out like Vienna sausages. (Delicious but certainly not nutritious.)
Oh, by the way. The first sample above is the computer-generated one…