March 26, 2019

Robot authors trying to compete with Orwell


A non-profit lab called Open AI has announced that they’ve trained a machine to read, write, translate, and summarize text unsupervised. According to Open AI’s blog post, the objective is for the machine to write human quality text, both fiction and non-fiction, and bring society:

Some negative things this reading/writing robot might be able to do:

The creators announced it’s too soon to release the program and expressed that the major concern is misleading or false news stories that may be created by the robots. Open AI did, however, release a smaller version for people to experiment with. If you’re not interested in experimenting on your own, Steven Poole of The Guardian did some explorative reporting.

Poole reports that the machine was given the opening line of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” The program continued 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.

The robot-authored paragraph is far from reaching Orwell’s skill level and, as Poole points out, is kind of nonsensical. On news that the machines will be able to generate news stories, Poole replies, “All these are, though, are giant automated plagiarism machines that mash together bits of news stories written by human beings.” Poole goes on to point out that if humans plagiarize, it’s criticized—but if robots plagiarize, it’s progress.

At this point, the technology seems as threatening as the Gmail auto-answer, which is to say we will still need human readers and writers for many years to come.



Christina Cerio is the Manager of Direct Sales & Special Projects at Melville House.