Is AI Really the Next Big Thing in Publishing?

Is AI Really the Next Big Thing in Publishing?

The arts seems to be one of the last places that machines will touch. After all, there’s not a lot of money over here—why bother getting robots to write stories for pennies?

Could Bots Come to Publishing?

But in the digital era, when writers are struggling to eke out a meager living and publications need to feed the twenty-four-hour news cycle (but don’t wanna pay), using robots has more and more appeal. Automating the arts is something that’s already being discussed—and even attempted.
In fact, there’s story-writing competitions for bots already, and with the identification of the six types of story arcs, we could see algorithms that allow robots to more easily produce works of fiction along a trajectory. A human might simply plug in a few variables—character data, the type of story arc, a few key plotpoints, the audience—and let the bot get to work.

The Argument Against

Traditionalists will say this is impossible; the arts, they’ll argue, require a human touch. A robot can’t mimic human speech or writing with the sophistication needed to write a novel. It certainly can’t make a movie or act in a play. A robot can’t create fine art, like pottery, sculpture, fresco, or paintings.
A doll of Hatsune Miku, the original Vocaloid.

The future is dead-eyed, yet cute somehow.

Or can they? Already, robots are being made to more efficiently understand and respond to speech. Apple’s Siri can tell us where to bury bodies, after all. Robots can also create music—and we have the Vocaloids, hologram pop idols, from Japan performing concerts around the world. True, people are still entering inputs to control the output, but the point of the matter is that robots are beginning to move into the arts. It’s rudimentary at this stage, but it is happening. And as our technology, our software, our robots, become more sophisticated, they’re likely to begin mimicking human arts on a scale that compares favorably to human creation.

 Keep in mind people said a computer could never beat a chess master. That’s come to pass.

The Robots Are Coming!

So not only is it quite possible that in the future, we’ll create art using robots, it’s quite plausible. Publishers and music makers would like this very much; they’d be able to dump some parameters into a program and spit out a book or a song or album that meets current requirements or matches up favorably with trends.

That bodes well for commercialization of the arts. It means we’ll be able to mass produce web articles quickly and easily—at minimal cost. It means books will be churned out on an even greater scale, in less time. There will be no waiting for the author to finish the manuscript.

Don’t Panic Yet

But what does this mean for the human touch, for the arts? Well, the point is that we’re probably a long way off from the date that robots can perfectly read and write, just like us. Human language is incredibly complex, and while we’re making leaps and bounds, getting a computer to parse human speech is far from perfected.

In fact, it may never be—why? Because, half the time, human beings have difficulty parsing speech or writing. Language is often ambiguous, and computer programs often don’t do very well with ambiguities. You have to program them to deal with those ambiguities, but the range of variables and possibility in human language is vast. That means a program that would handle all of those possibilities and variables and ambiguities would necessarily be very complex. Think about how complex our brains are—and that most (im)perfect computer can’t even deal with all the vagaries of language. How can we expect a robot, programmed by our own falliable selves, to come close? If you need proof, look no further than the Atlantic’s failed experiment in getting a robot to write an article.

Is AI the Next Big Thing?

Some people have been making noise about artificial intelligence being the “next big thing” in publishing. I’d say not. Why? While there’s interest, the funding first and foremost isn’t there. The next issue is the level of sophistication of current technology—it’s not where we need it to be either. So there will be other “big things” in publishing before we get to artificial intelligence being a game changer.

Hell, publishers are still getting on board with the digital revolution, with having websites and social media, dealing with Amazon, and selling eBooks. We haven’t explored what goddamn eBooks can do for us yet. In fact, some top people in publishing fail to see the good eBooks do, calling them “stupid” products.

And we’re talking about automating the writing process using robots?

It’s pretty farfetched. Suffice to say publishing isn’t due for another revolution just yet. Let’s get this one under our belts first.
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