Can Artificial Intelligence Write a Novel?
AI-written books are now an incoming reality. But can they write the next great bestseller? And, is this art?
AI is already writing music, creating pictures for graphic novels, and winning art competitions, beating humans. Next? Novels.
One of the first experimental AI-written novels turned up as early as 2017. Called 1 the Road, it was an experiment by Ross Goodwin. It was written as he drove from New York to New Orleans. Strangely, Google funded part of the cost of the project.
Goodwin was accompanied by a laptop-based AI hooked up to various sensors, whose job it was to output text. At the end of the journey, Goodwin left the text unedited. He even found a publisher – Jean Boîte Éditions. While he felt that the text was “choppy” and had many typos, he wanted to preserve it for future study.
The opening sentence reads, “It was 9:17 in the morning, and the house was heavy.”
Singularity Hub’s Thomas Hornigold said that while it wasn’t a masterpiece, “you might see, in the odd line, the flickering ghost of something like consciousness, a deeper understanding”.
The Atlantic’s Brian Merchant said he read the book in one go, despite there being no particular plot or story arc. But he said there were “some striking and memorable lines.” Lines like: “All the time the sun is wheeling out of a dark bright ground.”
So as we move into the metaverse, and storytelling forms a part of this, how much of gameplay or metaverse entertainment will be written by AI? Potentially – all of it. But are we there yet? Will AI be writing all of our future books, movies, metaverse lore, and gaming storylines? And should this worry us?
Anyone who blogs for a living or anyone who produces content for marketing purposes has probably heard of AI assistants. These are websites that promise to write your blog content for you. The idea is that you enter some key phrases and shape the direction of the content a bit, and voilà! You have your blog done for you.
But don’t get excited, this isn’t quite the case yet. But we are definitely getting close.
As a writer, of course I would try this out. I chose Jasper.ai and paid the subscription, which was around $50 a month. Considering I was already paying for freelance writers to help me out on different parts of my business, this seemed like a bargain. No lunch breaks, no holidays, no complaining, no challenging my terrible ideas… it’s a dream come true!
Until it isn’t.
The first thing I will say is that these AI assistants can knock it out of the park. There are some things they can do really well. I once asked Jasper.ai to write me an article on razor clams, with recipe ideas. The AI smashed it.
However. I had to do a lot of shaping, and checking of “facts.” That is, sometimes the AI told massive lies! Also, it can’t do things like search for pictures and videos that lift the story and make it more interesting. So a human touch is definitely needed.
I worked out that using the AI meant that I output this particular story twice as fast with the AI. Which is great! But then…
I asked it to write me a story about the Eurovision contest. This story was an abject failure. It gave statistics that were just blatantly untrue, like that Norway had finished last more than any other country. Poor Norway – not sure why the AI dragged the country so much. LEAVE THOSE COLD PEOPLE ALONE.
By the time I fact-checked everything, I may as well just have written the story from scratch. I found out later that the AI works by reading everything it can on the internet and then distilling “facts” from that. So, if something is untrue on the internet, it will be untrue in your story.
Overall, I didn’t feel like it saved me time… so I canceled my subscription. However, the tantalizing possibility of AI in the future is definitely there. I will revisit this decision in a year or so. And even better – what happens when facts don’t matter? Like when writing a novel? This is where surely, we as a species can take risks with AI writing.
AI-Written Books: Novels
Imagine being a writer of a novel. You have introduced your hot main characters. They have been struck by lightning or whatever they need to discover their superpowers… now what? Writers’ block!
Here, the AI could help you get over a literary wall. While AI writers may not be welcome in the writing community, this is an interesting juncture. What if the writer gives up at this first block, and the potentially fantastic novel never is born?
However, by using AI, the writer could be newly inspired, given a new direction, and finish the novel.
Online, there is an equal amount of disgust and joy on this topic. Self-publishing influencer Arielle Phoenix says, “I can see how in the wrong hands, these tools can result in an influx of terrible quality books flooding the internet. But to be honest, that’s no different from the hundreds of thousands of terrible quality no-content and low-content books out there. And, the already terrible self-published music and of course all of the videos on the weird end of YouTube that have technically been self-published. Everybody has the ability to create content and the tools to do it. So, AI writers are nothing new in that respect. In my humble opinion AI writing tools are no different from something like Grammarly which you probably didn’t know of, or think of, as an AI writing tool.”
Bjorn Schuller is an associate professor in machine learning at Imperial College London. He says, “What humans are great at is context integration, and lending their overall understanding of the world and what’s going on, in making an analysis of a situation.”
He says that with machines’ natural language understanding, we aren’t there yet. “When they read research papers, they’re lacking the context and sometimes don’t get the gist of let’s say, irony or sarcasm, or other nuances which are in between the lines.”
Schuller says, however, that these gaps are slowly becoming less of a gap. “Emotional intelligence is coming to the fore. And, at the same time, machines can exploit big data and exploit all sorts of knowledge databases that a human does not have the capacity to store. So, when we think of a machine and a human, the machine can browse all of Wikipedia or similar platforms. Therefore, they will have quite an advantage in exploiting more information.”
Once the AI conquers conversational skills, it can then learn creative skills. Then we enter the realm of AI producing poems, short stories and novels.
Schuller says after this point, the AI can come up with plots. “This is quite intriguing. AI has a big advantage over the human author, as it can be very good at keeping track of the characters that it is using it in its fiction.”
The AI remembers all of the potential flaws that could easily find their way into a human-written story. “The story can be checked at all levels by the machine perfectly well.”
Schuller says that despite what you may have heard, this is still somewhat in the future.
The progress… or unprogress… of AIs can be seen in this clip below. Jack Soslow pitched two AIs together in a conversation. They spoke a lot of profound nonsense, but we can definitely feel the sexual tension between them. Is this the great romance novel of our times in the making? Not yet.
Today is Spaceship Day
In another experiment, a creator called Austin McConnell asked an AI to write a story, and he got a different AI to animate it. He says, “It seems like every day I hear or see a news story about how Artificial Intelligence is getting closer and closer to becoming indistinguishable from human beings. And while AI has certainly changed the face of automation, it remains to be seen whether or not it can truly replicate the creative spirit. I decided to put that idea to the test. So, using an open-source AI program, I plugged in several well-known stories, like the Harry Potter series, some Star Wars screenplays, a few Stephen King novels, and even a mediocre young adult book was written years ago by yours truly. After the computer used those to learn how to write, I asked the system to generate its own original tale.”
MCConnell says that the story is ridiculous. But actually, that’s not the case. It’s definitely a little weird. But. Dear God, it is strangely compelling.
AI-Written Books: Other Experiments
In another experiment, a creator made a bot watch over 400,000 hours of horror movies. Then, they asked the bot to write its own horror movie. The bot named the story, Mr Puzzles Wants You to be Less Alive.
While it’s far from perfect, it is also strangely compelling.
The same creators also created a Christmas Movie which is unintentionally hilarious. The bot called the flick “Carol’s Christmas Carol For Carol, A Woman Named Carol.”
You could literally fall off your seat laughing watching this. The creators say that it is a “mathematically perfect Holiday film.”
While AI-written books aren’t quite there yet, we are very, very close. Again, the question needs to be asked, will authors be obsolete? Will content writers be out of a job? Is an AI creative? Is this art? Will it bring joy? Are AI-written books the future? Let’s watch this space, before AI does it for us.
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