Robot Almost Wins Short Story Writing Prize

Time to add “novelist” to the list of human occupations threatened by the advent of artificial intelligence.

AsianScientist (Apr. 7, 2016) – As if you needed more proof that a robot uprising could be on the horizon, a short story written by an artificial intelligence (AI) program has passed the first round of judging for the Nikkei Shinichi Hoshi Literary Award, a literary competition in Japan. In fact, 11 out of roughly 1,450 novels accepted this year were written with the involvement of AI programs, Japan News reported.

If it is any form of relief, the shortlisted submission, called The Day A Computer Writes A NovelKonpyuta ga shosetsu wo kaku hi in Japanese—wasn’t entirely written by the program; humans had a hand in it too. A team of researchers from the Future University Hakodate gave the AI certain words and phrases, and an overall framework for the story. The AI then took it from there, writing the text itself.

For what it’s worth, the short-form novel written by the AI program was already set up for a certain measure of success. The competition is rather unique in that it allows submissions from non-human writers, and it appears that judges aren’t told in advance which submissions are written with AI involvement. As for the actual content of the novel, it was described by a science writer as “well-structured,” but did have “some problems”—for example, the quality of the character descriptions.

Already, all manner of journalism and writing assignments are being handed over to AI programs—or at least, the ones that tend to follow a standard format, or a set of repeated words and phrases. Political speeches are one likely candidate. An artificial intelligence machine developed by graduate student Mr. Valentin Kassarnig at the University of Massachusetts writes political speeches that are “remarkably similar” to real ones.

Financial reports are also being generated by computers, now. Associated Press (AP) has partnered with the data-driven writing platform Automated Insights to begin automating quarterly earnings reports. AP now publishes 3,000 stories per quarter that were written by AI programs; instead of bylines, each piece is signed off with “This story was generated by Automated Insights.”

Social media behemoth Facebook isn’t spared, either. An AI tool, called Automatic Alternative Text, identifies objects in photos and automatically generates captions, which a text-to-speech engine will then read aloud to blind people.

All said, as technology advances at a lightning speed, this could merely be a sign of things to come.

“So far, AI programs have often been used to solve problems that have answers … in the future, I’d like to expand AI’s potential [so it resembles] human creativity,” said Professor Hitoshi Matsubara, who led the team of researchers.


Copyright: Asian Scientist; Photo: Shutterstock.
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Coming from a design background, Filzah brings a fresh perspective to science communications. She is particularly interested in healthcare and technology.

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