The AP has begun reporting that the majority of its coverage for corporate earnings will be “produced using automation technology“. So what? Well, algorithm driven tools are being used to create reports and even full news stories. This means that little or no human interaction is needed for these robot writers to gather data, write news stories and have their stories published.
No really, what does this mean for you as a writer?
Well, if robots can write news stories, what’s to stop them from breaking into the fiction market and pushing self-published authors out the back door? For example, Yahoo Fantasy Sports coverage is already using algorithm driven robots to cover fantasy sports. Have you noticed the difference? Maybe you don’t like fantasy sports. Okay, what about Forbes.com? The site uses algorithm driven robots to write earning previews for the site. Remember that link you clicked on the Forbes website telling you all about reverse mortgages because they sounded too good to be true? Well, robots could have written that.
But really, how do robot writers affect you? Okay, say three years from now, you’re pitching your perfectly crafted who-done-it novel to publishers and they respond with, “sorry, but this story has been written before”. And you think, of course it has – all stories have been written before, but my perspective is awesome.
It doesn’t help.
Then you turn to self-publishing. Why not? You publish your fantastic novel yourself and no one buys it. You did all the right things. You got a Twitter, you got a Facebook page, you designed your own kick-ass website, and you told everyone ever about your book. Where did you go wrong?
You didn’t do anything wrong.
Now, publishers are using algorithm driven robots to create fiction. The market becomes saturated with well-written, grammatically correct novels and no one knows the difference – except of course the publishers. They can publish best sellers without having to negotiate contracts, deal with bratty authors that can’t finish their manuscripts on time and they no longer have use for editors.
Publishers make all the money because robots don’t need monetary compensation. Sound scary? A little, until you think that perhaps this is how Skynet actually got started. And unless there’s another Terminator to say, “I’ll be back,” to us in forty years, we’re all doomed.
How are the Robots Doing it?
Fiction is more than just a factory write by numbers process, but that’s because fiction is the life a writer injects into the formula. Creative writing programs are sold all over the Internet that give you a template or pattern to fill in to write your novel. What do you think is next? As artificial intelligence continues to evolve, the next logical step is to take different pieces of a novel writing formula, mash them together to create an easy to read, mainstream novel.
If a automated program were designed to set characters and their traits, setting, pacing, genre and plot mechanisms, all an owner of this program would have to do is set the parameters: conflict and climax. Who says that an automated program wouldn’t be able to do that as well?
Professor Phillip Parker, created a computer software that has already generated over one million books by his estimation. These books are non-fiction and rely upon the automated software gathering and compiling data and facts from around the web and compiling them into books. His goal is to generate books on specific topics and languages that would otherwise be impractical for traditional publishers to produce. Has it worked? You bet. His textbook, “The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Luggage and Utility Racks,” priced at $795 on Amazon.com, doesn’t have any reviews, but that doesn’t mean that an obscure college course on Airport Technology and Design hasn’t made this book a requirement for the class.
While Professor Parker’s idea is a great one, and has the capability to produce books for people in remote locations who otherwise would not have access to niche information, it does put the writing community as a whole in a predicament. If robots can drive trains, do your taxes, perform surgery or beat a human at chess, who’s to say it can’t write the next great American novel? Or at least one that makes the NY Times Best Seller List?
Am I being dramatic? A little, but not by much. But just know, as a writer, you need to make sure that your writing stands out. Robots know the difference between affect and effect, there and they’re and their. Do you?
Check out my next post on how to make your writing stand out, so the robots don’t replace you.