Thu, 27 Sep 12 at 13:24 | No Comments Yet
“Read in order to live.” — Gustave Flaubert
Machine reading has been around for years. Any computer with a decent scanner and some OCR software can transcribe text into whatever code you want. Machines capable of understanding are obviously more difficult to design — but they’re beginning to emerge:
Robot essay graders – they grade just the same as human ones … Researchers found that “overall, automated essay scoring was capable of producing scores similar to human scores for extended-response writing items with equal performance for both source-based and traditional writing genre.”
The SAT today, barnesandnoble.com tomorrow. The end of reading is in sight. “Condensed” books were popular when I was a kid, and remain so (though the Readers Digest sort have given way to condensed business books, at least in sales popularity). Now you don’t have to bother wading through even a five-page summary of War and Peace; Robby can take care of it for you.
Old news. But technology is making strides at the other end, too — in writing itself (or, as the executives like to call it, “content creation”). Machines are becoming authors in their own right.
It started at Amazon, perhaps unsurprisingly, with a plague of Kindle spam: automated software that scrapes content from existing, public websites and packages it into electronic “books.” Any one title might sell only one or two copies, but if your computer can “write” and upload hundreds every day, well, you can see the incentives. A new company, Nimble Books, is now trying to legitimate the business:
All I did was type in my title on a website, hit enter, and wait for a machine to do the rest. This is supposed to represent the future of the written word. “The idea,” says Fred Zimmerman, the CEO of the company that brought my book to market, “is to automate the publishing process.”
Amazon claims to be cracking down, though they’ve announced similar, ineffective bans before. More to the point, this process is more like xeroxing than writing.
But more creative efforts continue. Journalism is the next target:
Now computers have proven competence—no, fluency—in yet another aspect of human life: writing. Narrative Science, a Chicago-based startup, has developed an innovative platform that writes reported articles in eerily humanlike cadence.
Novels are surely close behind. Perhaps in a few years the New York Times will have to introduce yet another bestseller category. “Mechanized”? “Automaton”?
And thus the circle will be complete: robots writing for robots. Let them do the grunt work; humans can focus on contemplation and leisure.
Best of all, the robots won’t demand to be paid.