Last week’s blog about computer generated creative writing (an oxymoron perhaps?) has me thinking about the future of fiction and creative nonfiction. If, as seems inevitable, computers will usurp our ability to write novels and essays someday, what will we read?
Let’s go one hundred or so years into the future, when CGW is perfected, when our computers and software have become so sophisticated that humans simply can no longer match their creations’ ability to draw from the wealth of history and experience. They will generate stories so imaginative and interesting as to be irresistible to the average reader. Some will say this could never happen, that humans will always be more creative, but is that really true? Critics once said computers could never beat the world’s best chess players because they lacked the imagination of the humans. That threshold was crossed years ago.
What is creativity? It depends, I suppose, on whether you believe the human mind is some kind of ethereal putty, whose processes are bound to no set of physical laws, or if our neurons conform to mathematical principles that our scientists will eventually deduce. I don’t know the answer, but for the sake of this week’s blog, let’s assume the latter, that creativity involves accessing a database of information and computing the rational or irrational possibilities (depending on how one sets the response parameters).
What does this better than a computer? Just as a computer can calculate the value of pi faster than any human, so will the software of the future be able to create stories that speak to the desires and communicate the values that the average reader seeks. Sure, it will appear clunky and sometimes ridiculous at first, but by honing the algorithms that assign mathematical values to the words and concepts readers hold dear, the programs may eventually reach a human-like (or better) proficiency at writing. Not every reader will like every story, but computers will be able to generate something for everyone, and do it faster and more accurately than human writers.
But then let’s add to the equation the ever-increasing commercialism of our culture. Nothing has value in mainstream society if it can’t be monetized, therefore the success of future forms of writing will depend largely on what the market will bear. If, as I have long predicted, the gatekeepers of the literary world will be removed from the process (not that they won’t be needed, we just won’t have them), and if current economic trends continue, we will see two main types of writing:
For the members of the lower economic classes who can still afford to read (and still want to–by then who knows?) stories will work interactively, supplying characters, settings and plot based on spoken inputs, the variety depending on how much the reader will pay. Some e-books already have user options for endings and plot twists. I can’t help picturing a public library—scratch that, of course we won’t have public libraries by then—let’s make it a coffee shop, where people carry on virtual conversations with the personal reading units (PRU) projected in the air in front of them.
There will be, of course, no middle class in one hundred years, so don’t chide me about ignoring that aspect.
For the rich—ah, the rich—CGW will cater to their every literary desire. The software from their PRUs will be able to access their perceptions of the events of their lives, their memories and dreams, and will write their biographies as they go through their days. Editing will occur while they sleep, as the PRU works with their subconscious to ensure the client’s satisfaction with the finished product. Chapters of their lives will be available for download, and the rich will buy each other’s stories and never read them.
I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of glad I’m writing in the good old twenty-first century.