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Circuits for Authors | Will Robots Ever Write a Booker Prize Winning Novel?

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Imagine reading a book, liking it and then wanting to meet the author to get your copy signed. As a book lover, having a signed copy of your favorite book is a good feeling to have. It could be your prized possession; something for you to brag about. Now imagine that 'being' a robot. Do you still walk up to it and ask "what inspired you to write the book?" How would you react when the author signs your book with "01110010 01101111 01100010 01101111 01110100"? That was the binary code for "robot", just so you know. So is this the plot of a sci-fi drama or a possible future? Let's find out.

When we ask if a robot can ever write a Booker Prize winning novel, we need to first understand the layers that question holds. The person asking this question seems to assume that robots will be able to write novels one day. The doubt is whether one of them will be good enough to win the Booker Prize. Let's deal with one layer at a time. First, let us explore the major achievements artificial intelligence and robotics experts have covered so far in this spectrum. Naturally, we start with software.

According to the listings on Amazon.com, Professor Philip Parker has authored over 100,000 e-books in a varied range of topics. The same sources also reveal Lambert M. Surhone as the author/editor in over 200,000 book titles under a certain German based VDM in a wide array of topics, most of which are print-on-demand. The obvious question to ask over here is - how does one person write over 100,000 books? It's not that mind boggling if you knew that all these titles were churned out by software. By flooding the e-book market with this number of titles and then pricing them accordingly, a natural but healthy profit is guaranteed just by sheer probability.

Clearly, there are people out there who are making money from novels being written by artificial intelligence. Is there a market for such work or are most customers who buy these books not aware of the authors' origins - is a whole different discussion altogether.

Now consider publishers like Mills & Boon and the number of authors they have under their banner. They produce over hundred titles a month and whether you like it or not, there is a crowd for such books. One might say these titles are very formulaic and if the algorithms for writing such works of fiction were to be programmed into a robot, there's no reason why publishers such as these would not want to enhance their revenues by using robo-writers.

Kevin Warwick, a British scientist and professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading, also known as one of the first cyborgs on this planet, thanks to the chip installed in his arm, is the mastermind behind Gershwyn - an AI based tool that can study current trends in music and come up with tracks that are likely to be a hit. The catch, not surprisingly, is that it does not really "create" tracks in the true sense of the word, but merely mixes them to a beat it creates. Gershwyn is also the inspiration behind the much talked about AutoTune feature used by sound engineers and music programmers the world over and so called "artists" like Justin Beiber.

So we're clear on this so far - robots can create formulaic novels that very well stand a chance of having a target group and they can also create hit music. Now here's the crux of the argument - do we really want to live in a world where novels are formulaic and music is only made by machines? Oh wait, it is already so.

When we, humans, decided to use robots for our benefit, we merely imagined them as regular help who could take a task from point A to B and/or maybe achieve completion. Did we push the envelope too far?

Writing a novel that is worthy of a Booker, needs an inspiration, a motivation, and having to go from point A to B is not that. Creating music, or writing a song, is a result of some sort of musing or expression of some emotion. Emotion - that one coveted spot robotics and AI haven't been able to snatch from us humans, yet. For now, we can rest assured holding onto our egos that a robot will not win a Booker anytime soon. But then again, twenty years ago we also believed that one of those machines could not beat a Grandmaster in chess. Little did we know how that would eventually turn out.

We can conclude with quote from Kevin Warwick on human consciousness - On Human Consciousness: "John Searle put forward the view that a shoe is not conscious therefore a computer cannot be conscious. By the same sort of analogy though, a cabbage is not conscious therefore a human cannot be conscious".