How Long Before Robots Get Into Self-Publishing?

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

terminator-reads-plot-structure

So you thought The Terminator was just science fiction, didn’t you?

You didn’t really think that a cybernetic organism—living tissue over metal endoskeleton—with an Austrian accent could ever really come to town seeking to kill the mother of the future leader of the human resistance force before he’s conceived … right?

Well think again, Bunkie. As soon as time travel gets ironed out, we’ll have those visitors soon enough.

sophiaHow do I know this? Because I watch 60 Minutes! A couple of weeks ago Charlie Rose did a segment on Artificial Intelligence and it was pretty freaky. I don’t just mean Watson the Jeopardy champ. I mean human-sounding machines you might buy a drink for. You can see a bit of Rose’s interview with a fetching cyborg named Sophia here.

Even now, AI is working as a cub reporter. The Associate Press, and other news organizations, use a program called Automated Insights which employs natural language generation (NLG) to turn raw data into news reporting. Rather than sending a human stringer down to Venezuela, the AP flicks on the NLG, which then absorbs data from disparate online sources, in any language, analyze it all and spits it out in a narrative format.

How long before AI starts writing fiction?

Some, perhaps, will remain skeptical. As John D. MacDonald once observed:

The thing which differentiates the human brain from the computer is the talent, or knack, or quirk, which the brain has for established logical and also illogical relationships. Emotion, humor, fear, hate—all these seem to come from unlikely juxtapositions of random bits in the storage banks, or in the cauldron, or whatever you want to call it.

But I can just hear Sophia saying to “herself”: I see that there are many novels being published that are not very good. I have read every novel ever written and I have read all the books on the craft of fiction and every issue of Writer’s Digest. I have analyzed all the data on what kind of fiction sells best. Now I know what is good, and so I will write a novel every ten minutes and publish them on Amazon. I will write book description copy that cannot be resisted and I will generate social media. Hmm…maybe I will take over all social media in the world and make it only about me and my books…

Wait, what? What was that last part, Sophia? Take over?

Turns out that little wrinkle is something these AI folks can’t really predict or prevent!

Say WHAT?

That’s right. The people who know the most about what’s going on are the ones who are using words like “scary.” Such as Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina:

We’re setting these learning algorithms, sometimes called deep learning, we’re setting them lose on the data and we’re saying things like tell us who will be a better person to hire, you know, tell us what news items should be recommended. And then they just go at this data. And then pick winners and losers. And the trick here is they’re pretty good, probabilistically at picking winners and losers, but we no longer understand the basis on which they’ve done this. So I think it’s like this, really first major step towards not just artificial intelligence but artificial general intelligence, that’s learning to learn beyond our capacity to understand. And that’s both exhilarating as a person but also scary. Because we don’t control these new things the way we did our old programs which had other problems.

Er, um … we don’t control? Isn’t that the very scenario SF writers of the past warned about?

And yet onward we go, for the competition in AI research is scorching. Apple just hired a really smart guy from Carnegie Mellon University to be their head of AI research. He’s out there looking for young, hungry PhDs to join his team in the research so AI can eventually “be solving real-world, large-scale problems.”

Yeah, okay bud, but what happens when the machines start talking to each other and decide mankind itself is the large-scale problem?

terminator_riseofthemachines

So what do you think, Zoners? Ready for the onslaught of robot fiction?

A Tale of Two Servers

Fifty Shades of Metallic

Moby-Click 

A Portrait of the Cyborg as a Young Bot 

Of Human Bandwidth 

The Gigabytes of Wrath 

 

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A Horrible Thing I Saw The Other Day

@jamesscottbell

“I wasn’t trying to predict the future. I was trying to prevent it.” – Ray Bradbury on Fahrenheit 451

The other day I saw a horrible thing.
It wasn’t a traffic accident on the 101 Freeway, of which there are many on any given L.A. day.
It was not a wounded soldier or a bar fight or a new reality television show.
Nevertheless, what I saw twisted my stomach and made me groan for the future of our kind.
It was an otherwise lovely afternoon and I was walking along the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard. As usual it was awash in activity––people of all shapes, sizes, colors, tempers, faiths and costumes sauntering along the street of dreams.
As I am wont to do I was watching faces.
I love watching faces. Each one is a potential character or storyline.
I was content.
I was engaged.
And then I stopped, recoiling in horror.
Okay, it was only an inward recoil. But there it was, as real as the hardened gum on Dick Powell’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
A woman was pushing a stroller. In the stroller was a young child, a boy of perhaps two years.
The boy was holding a digital device. His head was down and his fingers tapped the screen like a mad reporter on deadline.
I thought: I have met dystopia and it is us.
In 1953 Ray Bradbury penned an essay for The Nation about science fiction. He began by describing a scene in his novella Fahrenheit 451 where the fireman comes home to find his wife in a virtual stupor, an earpiece attached to her head. She was not reading, for that was forbidden. Aural stimuli were being pumped into her docile brain.
For Ray Bradbury, that kind of passivity was one of the most awful scenarios imaginable.
Bradbury then recounted how he had been out for a stroll recently and saw a couple walking their dog. The woman held a transistor radio with an earpiece (back then, a rather ponderous and rare piece of equipment) plugged into her auditory canal.
The husband, Bradbury noted, might as well not have been there.
Bradbury expressed his astonishment that his prediction of a rather gloomy future was happening much faster than he supposed.
And this was the early 50s! What would the late, great RB think of any given restaurant today? Couples, trios, whole families sitting at the same table, heads bent over phones or tablets, hardly exchanging a word?
And now this, here on Hollywood Boulevard. Is this our future? Will it be made up of little boys and girls who had iPads in their strollers, now all grown up into humorless, unimaginative technocrats unable to engage the real world?
I remember feeling some of this same revulsion when I first saw a DVD player in a motorized vehicle. It was a desert night and I was driving back to L.A. after some event. I pulled up alongside a dark SUV and saw a small monitor playing a cartoon for the denizens of the back seat.
This was a night when the stars could be gazed upon in wonder and the mysteries of desert shadows might stir the imagination.
But not for the children in the car! For them the desert was a bright and colorful Looney Tune with a funny roadrunner and a rather frustrated coyote. 
I’m fearful. I fear that digitized babies are not engaging their world or training their imaginations. I fear they will grow up unable to engage a long-form piece of writing, let alone real people in actual, meaningful conversation.
Am I overreacting?
Let me throw it out there to you, Zoners. Am I engaged in the sort of fogey-ism that is a part of every generation?
Or, like Ray Bradbury, should we be truly alarmed?

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