WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Aye, robot

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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…

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6 comments on “Aye, robot

  1. John W. Howell
    March 23, 2015

    I am not a robot. . . I am not a robot. Great post, Mr. Hell

  2. kingmidget
    March 23, 2015

    I thought the first one was the human-written version. 😦 Given my lack of success at putting words to paper these days, the computers might as well take over. At least for me, anyway. How as the move?

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 24, 2015

      Sometimes I think it would be preferable to let a machine do the hard part. I like coming up with ideas, but, man, is the execution tough!

      And the move — happened. You know how it is. At least the most stressful part is over now, plus we’ve already done three or four great hikes along the American River… Perfection!

      • kingmidget
        March 24, 2015

        I might try for a hike near Auburn next week. The Stagecoach Trail.

      • Kevin Brennan
        March 24, 2015

        Haven’t done that one yet. I’ve heard of it but not sure how to get to the trailhead… Let me know how it goes!

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This entry was posted on March 23, 2015 by in Writing and tagged .
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