It’s the week of the 2018 London Book Fair at Olympia, and the worrying news has reached Downtime that our jobs are indeed under threat from the rise of the robots, with the publication of the first new Brothers Grimm fairytale in 200 years, written entirely by an artificial intelligence algorithm.
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Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of Calm, a meditation and sleep app, is the man to blame. Acton Smith describes his cynical attempt to drive journalists and writers out of business as a form of “literary cloning.”
“We’re doing for the Brothers Grimm what Jurassic Park did for dinosaurs,” he said. “We’re bringing them back from the dead, with modern science.”
Wait…. Has this man seen Jurassic Park?
Working with augmented content startup Botnik, Acton Smith and his anti-human conspirators ran the entire Grimm oeuvre, including such age-old classics as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel, through Botnik’s Voicebox predictive algorithm, which develops an internal model of the most common words and sequences it finds to build a predictive keyboard that suggests how the story might go.
The resulting phrases and sentences suggested by the programme were then arranged into something legible by Botnik’s human slaves, including company founder Jamie Brew.
“We then filled in the gaps, either using further algorithmic suggestions from the keyboard or simply by writing details that struck us, the writers, as natural completions of the scene,” said Brew.
“This back and forth between machine and human input continued throughout the writing process, as the Botnik writers combined the output of the predictive algorithm, their own intuitions and the feedback of their editors at Calm to shape the final story,” he said. “The end result belongs not to any single machine or person or pair of brothers but to the whole interconnected system of inspiration and interpretation.”
The end result, The Princess and the Fox, is the tale of a king, a magic horse, a sad princess, a lowly miller’s son and a talking fox who helps the boy save the princess from having to marry a prince she does not love.
Once upon a time there was a golden horse with a golden saddle and a beautiful purple flower in its hair. The horse would carry the flower to the village where the princess danced for joy at the thought of looking so beautiful and good.
“It’s magnificent,” she said to her father, the King of Bread and Cheese. “Will you give it something to eat and drink if I marry the prince?”
You see, the king had long since urged his daughter to marry the only eligible prince in the land. The problem was she did not love him and so had continued to refuse his proposal.
The king replied: “Come with me into the cellar of the castle, where I have got a piece of cake and juice for the strange thing that is your horse.”
If you want to read more, The Princess and the Fox is available to download from Calm as one of its Sleep Stories.
But perhaps most worryingly, this latest development shows just how quickly the robots are gaining on us. Botnik’s previous attempt at literature was released in December 2017. The robot-penned Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash was written by similar means and contained immortal lines such as ‘He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family. Ron’s Ron shirt was just as bad as Ron himself’ and ‘They looked at the door, screaming about how closed it was and asking it to be replaced with a small orb. The password was “BEEF WOMEN,” Hermione cried.’
At this rate, I reckon we’ve got about a week left. Oh well, we’ve had a good run, but it looks like the game is up. See you down the Job Centre, Bryan.