It's happening: Machines are taking over more and more human jobs. But robots won't soon replace creative geniuses like writers, novelists and poets, right? Don't be so sure. I'd like to believe that you could tell the difference between my writing and a computer's best work, but researchers are constantly working toward perfecting writer-bots, and they're getting closer.
Bonus: See how a computer named Watson can beat human players on the TV game show Jeopardy.
That being said, I think I have some measure of job security - at least for now. I recently came across some writing samples from artificial intelligences in development and they leave a lot to be desired. Check out this excerpt from a story written by a computer program called "Scheherazade:"
When the person before John had finished, John slowly walked up to Sally. The teller said, "Hello, my name is Sally, how can I help you?" Sally got scared when John approached because he looked suspicious. John pulled out a handgun that was concealed in his jacket pocket. John wore a stern stare as he pointed the gun at Sally. Sally was very scared and screamed out of fear for her life. In a rough, coarse voice, John demanded the money. John threw the empty bag onto the counter. John watched as Sally loaded the bag and then grabbed it from her once she had filled it.
Apparently Scheherazade hasn't quite mastered the use of pronouns. It sounds stilted and awkward, but it actually tells a story in a way that sounds vaguely genuine. But if you're a writer, don't despair. These computer programs could actually be your best friend.
Have you ever had writer's block? It's something every writer goes through sooner or later. It can be crippling. But a new computer program called The What-If Machine could help you break through. It can come up with excellent launching pads for new stories by thinking of ideas that could turn into plots and characters. Check out this list of what-ifs:
- What if there was a little dog who was afraid of love?
- What if there was a little bomb who forgot how to hurt a person?
- What if there was a man who woke up as a dog in a field, but could still use the telephone?
- What if there was a dancer who could only dance by using hand instead of foot?
- What if there was a shepherd in a yard who had the face of a bell pepper?
This computer program could come up with thousands of these in seconds. Another program called The Flux Capacitor uses a "metaphor generator" to come up with a character arc:
- What leads cute clowns to retire from circuses, to study necromancy and to become dreaded wizards?
- What leads shabby beggars to regain homes, to go to medical school and to become tidy surgeons?
- What causes reputable journalists to be dismissed from news media, to embrace voyeurism and to become sleazy voyeurs?
Again, these weird ideas certainly leave a lot to be desired, but they're not bad for machines. That gives me an idea: What if a robot became a novelist and won a Nobel Prize for Literature? That would make a great story! I want to hear from writers: What do you think about these robots' prose skills? Let me know in the comments below.