On the way home yesterday, I heard an NPR story about how a computer program at MIT has apparently learned how to “help” an MIT media lab student “compose” a sonnet using a database of Shakespeare’s works.
Including only words used by Shakespeare, the program suggests words that The Bard might have used in “that situation,” or, when writing a sonnet.
The transcript clarifies: “It was [Mathias’] sonnet confined to authentic Shakespearean language. It’s the same predictive software we see when our devices try to finish our sentences and suggest the next word.” Great, so a new application of technology.
But. Apparently Mathias tried to use the same “formula” with works of other poets, but they “were too unpredictable for predictive software to help much.” Isn’t that the point of being a writer and producing new and creative works based on the human condition that other people will read?! Software cannot understand, predict, or reproduce the human condition! (I hope everyone who reads understands how difficult it was for me NOT to type those last two sentences in caps. I had to settle for bold and italic.)
Even more troubling, Mathias went on to say, “We may well see people creating large amounts of automated poetry and then finding out which poems are popular.”
IS THIS WHERE WE ARE GOING WITH TECHNOLOGY BECAUSE IF SO, STOP IT, STOP IT NOW! (I’m sorry. My brain is shouting.)
Writing – poetry, novels, short stories, novellas, even, to some extent, nonfiction writing – is based on the human condition! The human condition cannot be automated and reproduced for the purposes of popularity! Not everyone likes Dickens! Not everyone likes Proust, or Austen, or Marlowe, or Shakespeare, or…I could go on forever! That is the way reading and writing works!
Writing is not about popularity, it is about endurance: the endurance of the human condition, of human frailty, of being able to express, communicate, and share that we are all part of something and made for something and we all have, somewhere, somehow, someone that understands us.
Authors as vending machines. Awesome. http://t.co/n6vTZ8mnl7
— libba bray (@libbabray) February 11, 2014
Again, I was confounded by the idea that people think about fiction this way. Isn’t waiting part of the fun of it? Isn’t it good to, well, have patience, and let a reading sink in before moving on to the next? Part of the fun, for me, at least, is re-reading a book right before its successor arrives. At any rate, Kami Garcia (I’ve read her and Margaret Stohl’s books and enjoyed them, for what it’s worth) and one Twitter user put it much better than I did, as I was so frustrated upon seeing the tweet on the heels of hearing the news story yesterday afternoon, and so I will end with their words instead of mine:
@libbabray These articles are so gross and belittling, as if we are assembling pre-made crap.
— Kami Garcia (@kamigarcia) February 11, 2014
— Rebecca (@Lunanshee) February 11, 2014