March 23, 2016

Short story “written” by robot doesn’t win Japanese literary award



Just last week, an evil, god-like robot defeated Go grandmaster Lee Sedol, a tragic accomplishment that seemed decades away in 2012. In some ways it completed the Triple Crown of robot-fun-killing which began with Garry Kasparov‘s defeat at the hands of DeepBlue in 1997 and continued with the ritual slaughter of Ken Jennings on Jeopardy in 2011.

And now, the robots are coming for our books. As reported by Japan News, researchers from Japan’s Future University Hakodate have announced that a book co-written by team members and artificial intelligence made it onto the long list of the Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award.

The prize itself is somewhat unique. It was established in 2013 to honor Hoshi Shinichi, one of Japan’s most beloved and prolific authors of science fiction. In 2014, Hoshi’s daughter Marina Hoshi Whytemade made the decision to accept literature written by robots and computers. As reported by Alison Flood for the Guardian in 2014:

Hoshi’s daughter, Marina Hoshi Whyte, said that, alongside human competitors, the prize would accept entries from computers as well as “from other nonhumans, such as space aliens and animals, as long as they are written in Japanese”. “It is sort of a joke, but for real,” she said. “I wanted the award/competition itself to be science fiction. After all, if it can’t expand the imagination of the general public, what’s the point of having a sci-fi competition?”

Fair point!

Apparently, about 80% of the actual work of writing the short story, including plotting, thematic development and character building was done by humans. All the robot did was compose and adapt the sentences from the proto-novel that researchers gave it as input. Also, it didn’t win. So, no big deal.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what this robo-book is all about. Well, everyone knows that robots are horrible narcissists, so a book written by a computer would be about a computer writing a book. Here are the closing lines:

“I writhed with joy, which I experienced for the first time, and kept writing with excitement. The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.”

Not bad, Robowriter, but unless you can top this, I’m afraid the hardware will have to wait.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.