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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.

 

The nice people at Google have put together a “neural network” of computers which is capable of learning.  In three days it learned to spot cats in pictures, even though it had never been told what one looked like.

Ah, neural networks.  Everyone’s favourite method of creating supercomputers and robots.  Say, Matt, how do you feel about doing a post on different types of robot-brain?  Is there enough variety out there to make it interesting?

The thing that really gets me about it, though, is that right at the very end there is this sentence:

As well as spotting cats, the computer system also learned how to pick out the shape of the human body and to recognise human faces.

A one line throw-away at the end of the article?  I guess they thought people would be more impressed by kitties

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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