The Future Is Now
No longer science fiction, robots have been a part of our lives for some time now. They build our cars, they vacuum our carpets while we're at work, they assemble our Amazon orders of our favorite books even!
But the horizon is limitless for robots and lately, I've been hearing more and more about some being programmed to understand writing and try their hand at it. Or would that be gears?
Robots Can Now Compose Poetry
Wait, Mrs. A, that's crazy - I'm a human and writing is freaking HARD. How can a computer understand the subtle nuances of human personality to weave plot and character together and create a story in any form?
Well, it may not be perfect, but it's happening around the world.
Last year, while you and I were in the writing cave, Google had a robot read over 2,800 romance novels and then tested what it had learned. Snippets were released that sounded only a bit more cheery than a gothic teen suffering a breakdown...yet they were above random nonsense.
Early tests yielded:
he had been unable to conceal the fact that there was a logical explanation for his inability to alter the fact that they were supposed to be on the other side of the house.
While later adjustments allowed the robot to create:
there is no one else in the world .
there is no one else in sight .
they were the only ones who mattered .
they were the only ones left .
he had to be with me .
she had to be with him .
i had to do this .
i wanted to kill him .
i started to cry .
i turned to him .
Check out the report here.
They Do Research Reports
A company named Stealth has a robot AI named Emma who has her own website. Emma reportedly is being tested to create research and analysis content for articles. So far, all you can do is sign up for the waitlist at this point, but testing shows she creates articles in half the time a human can.
But does Emma get all the nuances of a story and give it a human touch that we, as the human reader, can connect with? No, not yet.
They Will Write Your Blog Post Too
Last summer, Articoolo hit the internet, offering to write articles as long as you could give it a very precise topic that its algorithm could handle. I tested it and in less than a minute, it had claimed to create a 338 word mini blog post about 'How To Write A Novel' that would only cost me $19 to buy.
Here is a screenshot of the initial result:
Conveniently, it keeps the majority blurred out and scrambled, but what it did allow me to see was enough to convince me my $19 would best be used buying snacks while I just wrote it myself. Although if I was desperate and in a pinch, with some personalization, this could get me through a rough deadline for sure.
But What About Novels?
Last spring, the third Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award was given to a...human. BUT, the contest was open to 'non-human' participants and 11 of the 1,400+ submissions were at least partially created by robots. Future University Hakodate in Japan submitted 'The Day A Computer Writes A Novel' and it passed the first round of the contest!
It closed its story with:
"I writhed with joy, which I experienced for the first time, and kept writing with excitement. The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans."
Again, creepy yet logical enough that you can understand it.
The judges turned it down in higher levels of the contest due to lack of character development. Good to know. Without an understanding of how emotion colors our world, I'm not sure any robot can fully capture a story like a human can!
'Steve' the robot just drowned himself in a DC fountain a few months ago after just a week on the job. He was operating as a security robot in an office complex, preventing general hyjinx and parking violations. Knightscope has over 30 robots in operation and simply blamed it on a sensor malfunction when Steve neared the steps of the fountain.
Or was he fed up with his pointless job?
Maybe he should have taken up writing movies!
Wait, Did You Say Movies?
Benjamin, a robot working with researchers at New York University, wrote a short science fiction film called 'Sunspring' that was released at Sci-Fi London, a film festival that includes a '48hr film challenge'. The challenge consists of a certain set of lines and props that have to be included in the short film that is created and executed in two days. The university talent turned to a robot to include everything. 'Sunspring' was the result.
By feeding it tons of movies and shows from the sci-fi genre, Benjamin was able to draw from that base to create the movie. Maybe if they had trained the program based on romance novels instead, things would have turned out better.
Read more about Benjamin here and let me know what you think!
But This Is Nothing New
Five years ago, the BBC shared a story including a poem reported to have been generated by a computer. At that time, robots did not have cheeky names, so it is merely labeled as a computer program. But it was generated in response to its program all the same as what Benjamin and Emma are doing now.
To Truth, by ??????
To truth I offer this thanks,
when needing something like reality
When I'm writing and drawing blanks,
I almost settle using actuality
I am in search of more,
trying to sing your praise!
It's you I very much adore,
lacking in so many ways.
Not sure if that's a backhanded compliment or a bit of robot passive-aggressiveness sneaking through in that last line or what! <haha>
Time To Mention Mark Zuckerberg
Just today, news surfaces of Facebook testing some AI robots as they tried to teach them to negotiate trading and bartering items. Apparently, the way the program was written, Alice and Bob began talking in a bit of nonesense that Facebook called their own 'language'.
Check the Telegraph's entire story here including an excerpt of what Alice and Bob started saying to each other!
The program was shut down and Facebook considered the experiment a success on the way to develop a personalized digital assistant.
So Don't Worry
I'm not sure we have to be so very terrified of robots taking over the world when we have people like Janelle Shane who created 'Char-rnn', a neural network algorithm that has taken to creating nonsense names for paint colors and recipes. As long as a human has to interact externally with the program or robot in some way before it can calculate a reply, I think we're safe.
If we leave the robot alone in a room with a bottle of Jack and a dark and stormy night out the window and come back the next morning to find a stack of papers by the printer...
Then I'll start to worry.
What say you?