This morning I ran across a little tongue-in-cheek project called the National Novel Generation Month or NaNoGenMo, where the goal is to write a program that writes a novel. It’s an offshoot of the more well known National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) that replaces the author with a programmer. The results are about what you’d expect from a niche-hobby project: odd to just plain weird.
The fact that it exists is a signpost on the road of machine learning. It’s one of those things where the results get better with time. But at the end of the day a novel that sells is by definition something that has value. If we’ve learned anything from the 21st century, it’s that anything of value will be commoditized and a race to the bottom starts.
While I doubt novelists are in any imminent danger of being replaced with a program, we might see it in our lifetime.
A quick look at some of the current bestselling “authors” shows that the famous name on the cover didn’t write the book. I don’t see this as much different from using software to generate a novel. Except since the software isn’t ready for prime time, it’s cheaper to use people. For now.
A news service is already using software to write routine business news stories. A recent news article about an earthquake was written by a robot. I can easily imagine a publishing company buying up a promising startup in the generated fiction field. By training it on the house style, they would have a limitless supply of books. With the marketing department feeding it with plot trends and character archetypes, the results would just need some touch up editing and another ebook series is born.
Don’t look shocked, it’s no different that what happens now. It’s just that ghostwriters are doing the dirty work instead of a program. Again, people-robots are cheaper that machine-robots until they’re not. Then the software moves in.
This isn’t really far fetched. Just think about all the things that have already been replaced by software. I’m not going to make a list, just look at the apps on your phone to get an idea. We’ve learned that if it can be done, it will be done. Now we’re just waiting for the big money to move in.