Will writers be replaced by robots?

It may already be happening.


(Photo: Alejandro Zorrilal Cruz/Wikimedia)

Journalists have long joked that it’s only a matter of time before we’re replaced by robots. Well joke no more, because that day could come.

Philip M. Parker, Professor of Marketing at INSEAD Business School, has created a program that can write a non-fiction book in 20 minutes. Not content with this being merely theoretical, Parker has indeed put the system to work, with more than 100,000 books listed in his name on Amazon, with almost 700,000 attributed to his company Icon Group International.

Most of the books are not what the average person might want to read, with technical and business manuals making up a good chunk (sample: The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats). But, as points out, the information in these books is generally good enough for their target audiences:

The system’s database is filled with genre-relevant content and specific templates coded to reflect domain knowledge, that is, to be written according to an expert in that particular field/genre. To avoid copyright infringement, the system is designed to avoid plagiarism, but the patent aims to create original but not necessarily creative works. In other words, if any kind of content can be broken down into a formula, then the system could package related, but different content in that same formula repeatedly ad infinitum.

I’m not an expert on topics such as wood toilet seats, but a quick scan of some of the content of these books shows them to be legible and perhaps even credible, with no obvious mistakes.

The development is, of course, bad news for reporters since a good proportion of their jobs certainly fall into this formulaic category. It’s actually surprising that sports game reports and companies’ quarterly earnings stories aren’t yet written by robots. Oh, wait, that’s already happening.

Yup, the ground is shrinking beneath our feet. Robots have been writing novels for at least the past four years, while Parker’s next foray is going to be into romance books. You read that right: The 50 Shades of Gray of 2050 could come from the mind of a machine.

The obvious question then is, can robots write engaging fiction as well as humans? The answer to that is simple: Dan Brown is human, isn’t he?