Will robots write better stories than us oneday?©

woman sitting between white fluorescent lights


AI writing stories may sound far fetched but is it?

There are predictions that Artificial Intelligence will one day write stories. In fact, MIT Media Lab wrote a horror story using Artificial Intelligence. (See You Tube link below) to read how their experiment went. We might snort with derision at that suggestion but let’s not forget that ten years ago Kindle did not exist, nor Instagram, Google, Uber, iPad, Airbnb and the list goes on. Sitting behind Artificial Intelligence are some very clever algorithms.

A recent Wired magazine headlined with an article announcing that a debt collection programme based on algorithms is now making a customer’s experience less stressful.[1] The algorithm was created by analyzing publicly available data and it sets up payment arrangements and reminds people to make repayments via Facebook or helps them adjust their commitment according to their financial situation.

AI is already part of our daily lives

Algorithms are already part of our daily lives and if there is enough data for the creator of an algorithm to establish a pattern, they can develop a useful tool. There are two words in that last sentence that are critical – PATTERN and TOOL.

Human intelligence instigated the research and artificial intelligence took over. The algorithm now continues learning from the patterns detected from the interactions. As it completes this process more efficiently than people, it has the potential to put people in the debt collection industry out of work, and this is what people fear.

Should writers be concerned?

Could the same happen to writers? There is no question that algorithms will change the writer’s world. But do writers have to be afraid of becoming redundant? Probably not.

Algorithms are a long way from replacing quality storytelling and word crafting. If they ever do. However, algorithms are edging ever closer to taking over some of the work writers do – and for me, editing comes to mind.

There is universal agreement that algorithms will replace menial jobs. However, those that require creativity, thinking and imagining something that does not already exist cannot be replaced by algorithms.

Focus on being creative and unique

The emphasis is on creative and unique.

Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence rely on data that already exists.

Jodie Archer and Mathew L Jockers, authors of The Best Seller Code, say they have developed an algorithm that can predict, “whether [or not] a manuscript will become a New York Times best-seller.” [2]

Hephzibah Anderson, from BBC.com analyzed this claim and pointed to the weaknesses in their assertion. She separates writing produced by algorithms from that produced by a human being in the following way. “We communicate in a structured way and with feeling, and that can only be judged by another human.”[3]

However, whilst this may be true, and I fully believe it to be true, the algorithm may solve a massive problem publishers are trying to resolve right now – that of reducing the enormous manuscript slush pile they face every day. And that possibility is so attractive that authors in Silicon Valley are now fine-tuning their algorithms.

Will formulaic writing be the first victim of AI

But what about the impact of algorithms on formulaic writing – writing that relies on a pattern? Like Harlequin authors, Nora Roberts and others?

In her article, All About Romance, Dabney Grinnan says, “The formula works because the mix of characters provides a tremendous amount of room for diversity. But it is also a formula because like any good recipe, the key ingredients are always the same.”[4]

So does this mean that if we did a vast amount of data mining using Harlequin titles we could then request a machine to write a romance novel based on a sophisticated algorithm?

In her article, Romance Novels, Generated by Artificial Intelligence [4] Elle O’Brien checked out the theory by putting 20,000 Harlequin titles through a neural network that analyzed textual structure.

What she found was that the machine did pick up themes 90% of the time but the remaining 10% was what she called, ‘wackiness’.

Writers of repetitious reports are embracing AI

There is a lot of work going on in this area and economist Phil Parker is using algorithms to write non-fiction.

He says, “In the 1990s I was working on reports where you had to do a lot of economic analyses and I realized that most of what an economist does is itself extremely formulaic in nature.”[5] So he says he can now write his books using algorithms.

However, even a piece of writing based on a formula will only take a writer so far. From then on, the writer is on his or her own. Writers will continue to bring to a story or article their unique store of knowledge, experience and background. So regardless of how much data an algorithm mines and provides, it will not have accessed the 10% Elle O’Brien speaks about. That is the unique influence of a writer based on his or her personality, life experience and knowledge.

AI is a useful extension of our skills

Algorithms may be a useful tool. In fact, I have invented one I use all the time to catch wordiness, a lack of description and other writing faults that bore readers. The algorithm definitely improves the quality of my writing. It is a TOOL I use every time I write.

However, I also rely on the fact that readers need to feel an emotional connection with me, as a writer. My algorithm can’t do that. I give a piece of myself to every story I write through my experience, knowledge, understanding and insight which is unique to me.

That’s something I don’t believe an algorithm will ever replace. So don’t wait for an algorithm to improve your writing – start writing in your unique way, today.

Please share your thoughts on the way artificial intelligence can be a TOOL to add to more impact to your writing. The more ideas and the wider the conversation the better!

Suraya Dewing is a speaker at Breaking the Code: from writer to best-selling author on 6 October at The Belgian Beer Café, Melbourne, Australia.

Suraya Dewing blogs at http://www.thestorymint.com/blog

Acknowledgement: My thanks to Sue Ellson for her editorial input and advice on how to use Linkedin to best advantage.

Please enjoy this You Tube clip: A horror story by AI

[1] https://www.wired.com/story/silicon-valley-algorithms-for-debt-collection?mbid=nl_090418_daily_list1_p4&CNDID=53783581

[2] http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160812-the-secret-code-to-writing-a-bestsellerhttps://allaboutromance.com/13050-2/

[3] https://towardsdatascience.com/romance-novels-generated-by-artificial-intelligence-1b31d9c872b2

[4] https://allaboutromance.com/13050-2/

[5] https://readwrite.com/2013/01/15/why-write-your-own-book-when-an-algorithm-can-do-it-for-you/



robots. artificial intelligence