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robot writer

Robot writer

How do you know if I’m real? (plus literary events from 17 Sept 2019)

Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) about to write our news stories, articles and novels? We’ve got cars that drive themselves, planes that no longer need a pilot, fake news to manipulate our voting patterns, so how about stories? Are writers about to be made redundant? Shall we be left at the mercy of algorithms devised by the powerful to lull us into submission to their agendas? Angela J. Phillip investigates (or at least, she says it’s her).

The problem is that we always smile at these suggestions. No, it can never happen. We would know if a novel was written by a machine. We wouldn’t enjoy it so much. It could never produce a work of art. And we would know if a journalist had been replaced by a machine. The journalist has a certain style. We would know if it wasn’t the one we know.



According to the Guardian article cited below (The rise of robot authors) there is nothing much to worry about, or at least not yet:

‘Fed the opening line of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” – the machine continued the narrative as follows: “I was in my car on my way to a new job in Seattle. I put the gas in, put the key in, and then I let it run. I just imagined what the day would be like. A hundred years from now. In 2045, I was a teacher in some school in a poor part of rural China. I started with Chinese history and history of science.” ‘ read more.

Well, they’re right about that machine story. It’s confusing and easy to pick apart. On the other hand, the computer might even be awarded some marks out of ten for ‘imagination’ – something that it has been difficult to write into a program. If you look at the other machine story in the same Guardian article (a continuation of Pride and Prejudice), the computer writes something that immediately picks up the style of the writing and what it produces makes sense. Steven Poole, the writer of the article, criticises it only for a couple of grammatical errors.

It is true that these machine attempts don’t match the authorial writing against which they are compared, but in the past, I have had students who have hardly done better. I’m not at all sure that I agree with Steven Poole that there is nothing to worry about. I remember working in Edinburgh in the ’90s and listening to the linguists at the university asserting that you would never have efficient machine translators. Well, the automatic translators are still not perfect, but they’re pretty good and getting better all the time. What was unthinkable a few years ago is reality now.

One of the most dangerous arguments is this one: all AI does is to use what human beings have already produced so it’s not really AI. Well, this used to be true but things are changing. Machines are beginning to ‘learn’. And yes, they are learning from what human beings have produced and human beings are still in control, but surely, this is precisely where the danger lies.

It is not in the computer going beserk (as in 2001, a Space Odyssey) although this could happen, but in the far more likely and far more common scenario (that is already in place) of the rich and powerful being in control of the AI that can produce this writing – to whatever prescriptions they choose.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then maybe AI algorithms to produce the kind of writing our rulers prefer might be more dangerous than atom bombs. What do you think?

For further discussion, see these articles:
The rise of robot authors: is the writing on the wall for human novelists? The Guardian 25 March 2019
Why AI will never replace writers ProWritingAid 28 June 2018
Artificial Intelligence and the future of writers and novelists Shruti Sinha 8 April 2019


Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Thursday 19 September 6 – 9 pm £2 entry Sheer Poetry: An open mic poetry night
Go to Bookbuster’s Facebook page and see what happened at the last Open Mic. There are clips of poetry readings.

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Wednesday 18 September: Book launch of Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialisation with Grace Blakeley at St Mary’s in the Castle. (See HOT article.)

Monday 30 September at 6pm at the shop. Das Kaptial Reading Group.

Jan 2020: Book launch of Paul Anderson’s Suedeheads & film screening of Horace Ove’s ‘Reggae 1970’ at The Electric Palace Cinema, Old Town.

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Come and look at their Facebook page to see what’s happening.

The Literary Shed Writing Circle run by A. Vasudevan
Two-hour weekly writing sessions in safe, creative spaces in Hastings and St Leonards
Tuesday 17 September from 10-12 am (free) at Goat Ledge, Lower Promenade, Warrior Square, St Leonards NB This is a change of venue.
Tuesday 24 September from 10–12 am (free) at Sea Kale, 29 London Rd, Saint Leonards-on-sea TN37 6AJ NB This is an extra session.
For further information, please email:, subject: WRITE-INS.

Writing Courses from CWP with New Writing South
2 year Creative Writing Course
Advanced Writing Course
Autobiography and Life Writing Course
For details on all courses, please see  Creative Writing Programme in collaboration with New Writing South

See review Word of Mouth – marvellous creative writing courses from CWP and New Writing South


Well, folks, that’s it for this week. I hope you’ve all had a good week and that your projects are going well.

For an update on my writing, please see:  Going round in circles

Thanks for reading and happy writing.

Angela J. Phillip

Images supplied by Paul Way-Rider

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Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

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