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Fiction, Reading, The Writer's Life, Writings

More Scary Stories from the Future of Creative Writing

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.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


21 thoughts on “More Scary Stories from the Future of Creative Writing

  1. A much less scary vision can be found in Tony Veale’s Exploding the Creativity Myth: the Computational Foundations of Linguistic Creativity. My Dublin Review of Books (drb) review http://viewreviewawritersblog.blogspot.ie/2013/01/as-fresh-as-cliche.html

    Posted by Paula McGrath (@ViewReView1) | January 19, 2013, 2:13 PM
    • Interesting post and I’m sure a very interesting book. And the reviewer mentions some writing tools that I hadn’t heard of but will definitely check out.

      I did find the idea of reusing ideas and patterns in the creation of story reminiscent of the idea that every writer has only one story to tell and s/he tells it over and over. (I think Marquez said that but I can’t find it on a quick Google search.)

      Posted by jpon | January 19, 2013, 2:30 PM
  2. I think you’re being unnecessarily gloomy, because you’ve left out of account one key ingredient to the human equation: egotism. The reason people still play and watch human chess games even though computers can win faster or better is because we are more interested and invested in ourselves and other humans than we are in machines. So I think that regardless of whether or not computers can write fiction, humans will probably always prefer to know what other humans are actually doing and saying about what humans do and say.

    Posted by shadowoperator | January 19, 2013, 2:20 PM
    • That is a great point. We are far more interested in people than machines. Of course were I scheming book publisher, I would not let on about who or what wrote the book. I’d make up an author’s name and stick on the cover and see if readers could tell the difference. And as a reader, I will be very suspicious of any novels written by “Hal 9000.”

      Posted by jpon | January 19, 2013, 2:34 PM
  3. God, what a scary idea indeed. I’m a book purest I still buy the kind made of ink and paper so to me this would be a nightmare. Should anyone be contemplating this PRU algorithm; please reconsider and let creativity be sacred (and not just because I hope to publish one day).

    Posted by b00kreader | January 19, 2013, 2:23 PM
  4. I must concur with shadowoperator. Computer programs are not something I worry about. Though, I wonder, what did George Jetson read?

    The bar has been raised for fiction writers, but it’s happening now. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for a piece I’m working on for VQR’s blog to find out.

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | January 19, 2013, 2:47 PM
  5. I think your future vision of story telling is spot on: Interactive, personal and electronic. It will be a compliment when a human is recognized as writing as well as a computer. Classes will be taught showing how the human-writing era influenced the great silicon based writers of the 22nd century. Students will be awed and amused at the pure effort we spent on creating fiction.

    And you know, it might not be all bad. A hand crafted 1913 Cadillac might be a brilliant thing to behold, but I’ll take a robot built 2013 Caddy, thank you very much.

    Posted by Jon Zech | January 19, 2013, 3:57 PM
  6. Again, all fascinating. I can’t wait to read the fabulous novel you write about it all. (Storytelling and creativity morph but never fade. What would Homer say about blogging?)

    Posted by girl in the hat | January 19, 2013, 5:18 PM
  7. Great set of posts, Joe. Despite the profit driven motives of the major markets, there is more at work in the creative literary world. What computers provide is what they provide, and always will be.

    Your predictions are scary, but probable. I see hope in the fact that humans will always hunger for stories. Tales provide a means to make sense of themselves and their existences. The greatest danger is that some CGW will change the sense of people’s existences, as technology has altered the aesthetic even today.

    As for non-fiction, Star Trek gives a clue. People will live through their “logs,” personal and professional. Those who think they have a story to tell will relish the equality technology provides to use their words to craft a saga in a fashion that makes them comfortable without the need of a professional.

    We writers will do what we do.

    Posted by vwriter7 | January 20, 2013, 7:25 PM
    • Thanks. A thought that recurred as I wrote the blog was how people from 100 or 200 or more years in the past would view not just our technology, but ourselves. What would they think of us and the way we live? Sure, people are people and we haven’t changed much physically or emotionally in thousands of years, but our values seem to change with each generation–how we work, play and read included. Readers of the late 1800s might be disgusted at the idea of flash fiction, prose poetry and experimental writing, just as we might be at computer generated fare. But to the citizens of the 2100s, it will simply be normal. Our malleability is why we’ve survived.

      Posted by jpon | January 20, 2013, 7:50 PM
  8. Each of has an inner symbolic system — things that are meaningful to us in ways that no one else would “get.” I believe this is what you were getting at with the CGW biographies for the rich. Yet I think it could go far further than biography. Why not generate the story of a fantasy adventure with me as the protagonist? Why not make my personal symbolic system the religion of that secondary world? The pleasure to be derived from this is the pleasure of being both author and reader, without all the work and fussing about over craft. Of course, MMORPG games are already providing some of that thrill for people already, but they’re not nearly as personalized as what you have suggested above.

    Posted by akhoffman | January 21, 2013, 12:18 AM
    • I love it. An adventure written for me with me as the star? Almost makes me want to investigate cryogenics. But of course I’d have to find a way to work on the rich thing while I slept.

      Posted by jpon | January 21, 2013, 5:51 PM
      • I like to joke(?) that I’ll become a hardcore World of Warcraft player when I retire…. (or whatever the equivalent will be then). ‘Cuz I frankly don’t have the time for it right now.

        Posted by akhoffman | January 23, 2013, 8:37 PM
  9. X-Files has it right, here: Fight The Future.

    Posted by fpdorchak | January 22, 2013, 12:03 PM

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