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Some Like It Bot: Algorithms are getting better at entertaining us.

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Artificial intelligence has captured the rhythm of science fiction. For example, the script of a new science fiction short is the creation of a bot. Although the software provides the order of the word choices, the source material is human. It works by algorithm and it derives its poetic power from the words of human feeling. The results are surprisingly good and even funny, in spite of its mechanized origins.

If that first paragraph sounds a little odd, that’s because a human being didn’t write it — or at least not entirely, anyway. Instead, I fed several articles about artificial intelligence into an algorithmic text emulator, gave it some input about word choices, and voila: I had the lead paragraph for my story. It was a strange but surprisingly intuitive process.

Bots and algorithms that can generate content or augment the work of human writers aren’t new. They’ve been used to write about sports and finance for TV networks and financial analysis firms and automatically generate stories about earthquakes and homicides for the Los Angeles Times. This month, the people behind the film “Morgan” released a trailerthat had been created by Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence product. On Kickstarter, screenwriter William Goldwin successfully raised over $30,000 for “Impossible Things,” a horror film whose core narrative elements were determined by an AI that curated data from over 3,000 films.

But now writers and artists are starting to use algorithms and AIs to do something that many people think should be impossible for a machine: entertain us.

I wrote the first paragraph of this article — if indeed we can call it writing — using a tool created by a man named Jamie Brew. He’s the head writer at the satirical website Clickhole, but in his spare time he developed a predictive text program that has allowed him to generate strange and hilarious parodies by feeding it all different types of content: X-Files scriptsCraigslist adsromance novelsIMDb content warningsthe grammar rules of Strunk and White and synopses of Batman: The Animated Series.


It’s hard to put your finger on exactly how it’s different until you learn how it works. Most algorithmic text generation you see on social media is automated. Twitter bots, for example, use Markov chains, algorithmic tools that analyze what words are most likely to follow others in the source material. The tool then automatically generates new text where words are sorted based on those linguistic probabilities. The user doesn’t have much say in the matter.

A good question:

When a writer or programmer uses the words of dozens or hundreds of other people as the source material for new machine-generated content, who’s the creator: the person programming the AI, the authors of the original works or the AI itself?

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