Will the Next J.K. Rowling Be a Robot?

As if it isn’t already difficult enough to win a literary contest, writers who submit fiction to The Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award competition in Japan have to contend against robots.

As the LA Times reports, four out of more than 1,400 entries to the competition — which accepts submissions from robots as well as people and is named for Japanese Sci-Fi writer Hoshi Shinichi — were co-authored by computers. Although it didn’t win the award, one hybrid work was selected by blind judges to move on past the first round.

According to Hitoshi Matsubara, the professor who led the team of researchers and robots responsible for the successful cyborg entry, humans performed about 80% of the work for the hybrid novels. As The Japan News explains, researchers came up with the story’s major parameters, like its plot and the gender of its characters. They then harvested words and phrases from a (human-written) novel and compiled them into an extensive archive. Using this archive, the computer created sentences and assembled them into a story based on the humans’ outline.

Writers who are full of ideas but can’t get them down on paper shouldn’t rejoice just yet. Matsubara told The Asahi Shimbun that there are still “many problems to iron out.” Sci-Fi novelist Satoshi Hase, who read the cyborg stories, agrees. Although Hase was surprised at how “well-structured” the robot novels were, he noted that there are still “some problems…such as character descriptions.”

The Japan News reports that one of the AI entries was appropriately titled, “The Day a Computer Writes a Novel.” Decide for yourself if this excerpt from the story is cause for concern: “The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.”

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