AI Takes On Literature: Robot’s Novel Has Passed Literary Prize Screening

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Hitoshi Matsubara, a professor of artificial intelligence, talks about his team’s AI project. Credit: Naoko Kawamura

Hitoshi Matsubara, a professor of artificial intelligence, talks about his team’s AI project. Credit: Naoko Kawamura | Futurism |

In Brief

Sure, an AI that can solve math problems and beat the world’s chess Grand Master is cool, but an AI that can write a book? Now that’s impressive. And a national literary award giving body agrees.

The Book Writing AI

“The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.”

A pretty profound line—considering this sentence is part of a book that was actually co-authored by an artificial intelligence (AI).

While it may not have won the top prize, this short-form novel, which was a collaboration between humans and an AI program, managed to make it through the first round of screening for a national literary prize in Japan called the Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award.

Titled ‘The Day A Computer Writes A Novel,’ the short story was a team effort between human authors, led by Hitoshi Matsubara from the Future University Hakodate, and, well, a computer. Matsubara, who selected words and sentences for the book, set the parameters for the AI to construct the novel before letting the program take over and essentially “write” the novel by itself.

The team submitted two entries for the literary prize—one of which made it through the first round.

Computing Creativity

This is the first time that the Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award has received submissions written by AI programs. Out of 1,450 entries, 11 were apparently written by non-humans.

“I was surprised at the work because it was a well structured novel. But there are still some problems [to overcome] to win the prize, such as character descriptions,” stated Satoshi Hase, a Japanese science fiction novelist who was part of the press conference surrounding the award.

By and large, AIs have been given computational tasks that require a strict sequence of problems to solve. However, creativity, which is an element inherent to all literary work, is pretty hard to quantify, which makes this AI’s achievement particularly impressive.

While its output may have been based on a strict sequence of construction rules, who’s to say that future efforts won’t improve on the current capabilities of autonomous AI? And soon, our greatest works—works that perfectly capture what it truly means to be human—may not be written by humans.

An out of this world view

If there’s one word that the latest space tourism projects are hyping to try to get more tourists to drop some serious cash (as much as $150,000 per ticket) for a trip to the edge of space, it’s view.

From crafts that have dozens of windows lining the rocket’s sides and ceiling to the ability to “roll the vehicle” using thrusters—all space tourism programs promise their passengers an unobstructed view of the cosmos beyond Earth.

But what does space really look like?

For those buying tickets, artist Michael Benson’s Otherworlds: Visions of Our Solar System is your sneak peek for your once in a lifetime trip.

Credit: NOAA-NASA-GOES Project/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures

But for those not leaving Earth anytime soon, this exhibition is probably the closest one can ever get to seeing such an ‘out of this world’ view with their own eyes.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Dr. Paul Geissler

Where science meets art

“I feel like if these places are so alien to our direct experiences anyway, then they should be colored the way they would be seen,” says Benson, referring to his process in creating the true color prints.

He takes raw data from the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) and European Space Agency (ESA) missions and painstakingly, in his words, translates them into something that human eyes can recognize.

Because cameras aboard spacecrafts like New Horizons and Cassini capture images showing visible light (reds and blues) as well as invisible light (ultraviolet and infrared), most of the images available online aren’t in ‘true color.’

Benson takes all photos shot through visible light filters – light which the eyes can see – and tiles them together to create a true color composite.

“Astronomy is about our position in the universe, and that doesn’t just belong to science,” he says. “I am making the case that this is art.”

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