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James glared at the computer.  How could he possibly have got an F for that essay?  His argument was well structured and logical, his work was neatly sectioned into manageable chunks of similar size and he’d even included lots of examples to prove his point.  The word count was within 20 words of the requested 4,000.  What else could he have done?

He checked the marking schedule again.  “Spring Term Final Essay – F – Click here for more”.  He clicked on the link.  A little pop-up appeared in the centre of his screen.

This essay was auto-marked by AI56923.

The following apply: 
– Structure: 87% 
– Content: 92% 
– Word Count: 99% 
– Spelling: 5% 
– Grammar: 5%

Overall Score: 46% 
Grade: F

James scratched his head.  Was there a glitch in the marking software?  He knew his spelling wasn’t that bad – in all of his previous essays he had scored over 95%.

Wait.

Groaning, he flicked back to the title of the essay.  The decline of spelling and grammar in the modern world: a comparative study of literature from three centuries 1900-2153.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have included quite so many examples.

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Not yet, but the time is coming, apparently.

Philip Parker, a professor at Insead business school, has over 100,000 titles listed on Amazon, all non-fiction on a huge array of subjects.  Each one supposedly took less than an hour to write, because most of the work was done by a computer.  There’s nothing new there, it’s all existing information, just compiled into one place.*

But it’s not just non-fiction that has to worry about competition from computers.  Poetry written by machines already exists, and in some cases is hard to tell from the work of humans.

Is it possible for a computer to write a novel?

There are any number of “easy methods” to write a novel out there, but can they be written into a computer program?  For some genres, I can see it working.  The easy-reading type of books that people read just to relax – they don’t want complex or surprising storylines or new styles of writing.  They just want to sit down and allow the cares of the world to fall away.

But for some genres, especially those where innovation is key, I can’t see it happening.  Can you imagine a science fiction novel, dealing with a completely new concept, being written by a computer?  Or an emotion-driven, heart-wrenching tragedy which brings tears to your eyes and an ache to your heart?  I can’t.

Some day, perhaps, when we have true AI, but not yet, and not for a long while.

It’s a good job really, or there might be a revolt among authors!

 

 

* On a side note, I went to look, and “Philip M Parker” does have a rather large number of titles available.  They range from Webster’s Faroese – English Thesaurus Dictionary to Ankylosing Spondylitis – A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients, and The 2007 Import and Export Market for Toilet or Facial Tissue Paper Stock and Towel or Napkin Stock in Finland.  A riveting read, I’m sure.

Each one sells for at least $20, so even if he’s only making 20% on each sale, and selling one copy of each book every two years, he would be making $200,000, or around £125,000 per year.  Not a bad payoff for a computer program, although one has to wonder what the point of some of the titles is.

 

Eugene Goostman is a thirteen-year-old boy living in Odessa, Ukraine.  He likes to chat online, to anyone who will listen.  His father is a gynacologist, and he has a pet guinea pig.

He is also a bot.

At the largest Turing test ever conducted, on 23 June 2012, the “thirteen-year-old” fooled judges in Turing tests 29% of the time, just 1% away from the limit that Turing set.  The creators of Eugene Goostman aren’t saying whether they think the personality gave him the edge, but they aren’t ruling it out either.

Do you think that an AI should have a personality?  Would we relate to them better if they did, or would they be too close to being human and scare us?

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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