Not too long ago, I was listening to an interesting report on the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) and the types of jobs that could be replaced by robots. Of course, the occasionally insecure writer in me wondered, could robots replace writers and screw up my retirement plan?
While I am certainly not an expert in the field, nor should this blog post be interpreted as an expert opinion, the Pollyanna in me says if it could happen, we are probably some time away from that.
To me, a good story really boils down to three things: the reader, the writer and the story itself.
For a story to be successful, it needs to engage the reader and resonate on a human level. It needs to connect with readers on an intellectual and on an emotional level. The story needs to stir up feelings in the reader to keep them coming back for more.
To achieve that, the writer needs to tap into their imagination, their emotions, their experience, or all three. Plus, with each writer’s unique point of view in the way that they craft a story, additional layers of interest are created and the writer’s sense of style is stamped on the story, much like a fingerprint.
A good story could be a testimonial of human experience that discusses the strong emotions felt along the way such as the struggle, the pain and the joy. A good story can take us to a world we could only imagine. Good stories can also scare the crap out of us, play with our minds, or inspire us.
To do all of the above requires heart and passion.
Despite the advances in artificial intelligence, I can’t imagine a computer has the depth and breadth of (life) experience and points of reference to compose a story with all of the human subtleties to which a reader can relate.
I believe the November 24, 2016 article in the Economic times/India Times, “What next robot, artificial imagination” backs up my speculation in stating “AI still has to depend on information rather than imagination”.
The same article mentions: “Now, a robot has even dashed off a creditable dystopian science-fiction novel. How it accomplished the ‘literary’ endeavour is even more alarming: it scanned and studied sci-fi magazines of the last 50 years to internalise the style and then using neural networks, devised a believable story.”
That being the case, behind every good computer, there needs to be a good programmer, solid data and an algorithm to generate a product. But even at that, even if a computer was able to produce a novel that is programmed to contain all of the elements of a great story, is the programming sufficiently advanced to give life to a story and characters with the all of their inherent complexity?
Plus, is Artificial Intelligence smart enough to manufacture humour that will appeal to a human based on observations or events. If you’ve ever had to explain a joke to someone, you have probably figured out that humour isn’t something that can really be taught. Either way, scientists are trying.
Even though plot lines today are the same stories of yesteryear, just told with a modern spin and told from a different paradigm, can a computer really be programmed with those unique tones and point of view to sound fresh and from the human perspective? Time will tell.
Just the same, whenever I start worrying about whether writers are at risk of getting replaced by computers, I remind myself of the times I get those emails from the grocery store with “specially personalized offers” for me, but ends up being a list of mostly things for which I have no use and for which I have no clue how they thought I’d be interested in that product (i.e., anything containing gluten).
That’s usually when my faith is restored that if computers can’t predict something as simple as my weekly grocery shopping patterns, they probably still have a good way to go before having the finesse to be able to write a literary masterpiece.
Other interesting articles on the subject:
“Joke Telling Robots Are the Final Frontier of Artificial Intelligence” by Becky Ferreira, Mar 15, 2016 motherboard.vice.com
“An Algorithmic sense of humor? Not Yet.” July 13, 2015 Technologyreview.com
“What next robot, artificial imagination” Nov 24, 2016 Economictimes.indiatimes.com
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