Last week an article about the bestselling Austrian/German author Daniel Kehlmann caught my eye. Kehlmann is probably best known for Measuring the World (original title: Die Vermessung der Welt) a historical novel / buddy book about mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and geographer Alexander von Humboldt.
In his newest book to be released in March, Kehlmann once again charts new territories. His latest release wasn’t written alone. Kehlmann had a partner. Alternating sentences with an algorithm in Silicon Valley, Kehlmann has produced a series of short stories.
For example Kehlmann sets the tone with an uncomplicated opening sentence: “It was a beautiful summer day.” The AI responds with: “The sun shone brightly on the green grass, but no birds sang and no insects hummed.” Spooky.
The AI, however, does not understand the context of what it writes. It has been fed a plethora of online books and social network conversations. From this lexical deluge it has learned individual words and their statistical relation to other words. The algorithm crunches the information and pops out sentences based on probability. The technology is akin to the fill-in text function of a message app put on steroids.
Kehlmann notes that there is a “startling magic to every one of the AI’s beginnings” but that it remains a “friend of the fragment.” The algorithm can’t manage more than one page before “the inner logic crashes and dissolves Dadaistically” – “like a madman” who temporarily has amazingly bright moments.
Many feel that human novelists have little to fear from text bots. Another text generation AI was fed the opening sentence of George Orwell’s 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” The algorithm continued the storyline with: “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.” Hmmm… Somehow it just isn’t as good as the original.
What are your thoughts? Will AI generated novels be topping the bestseller lists anytime soon?