Automated Content Will Unmake Existence

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Chess is one thing, but if we get to the point computers can best humans in the arts—those splendid, millennia-old expressions of the heart and soul of human existence—then why bother existing? Fortunately, computers have yet to match us in music or writing or dancing or even drawing—the lines are straighter, but that’s not even the point, and good luck uploading an actual right-brained imagination.*

The preceding paragraph may seem obvious to you, so deeply obvious that the assertion takes shape as an immovable stone at the center of your being. Computers creating art is an upsetting concept mostly because of what it means about humans: They, their feelings, their thoughts are predictable (or at least probable), down to the last letter, down to the last limited thought. If so, an algorithm calculating all probabilities can reproduce all scenarios, can predict all outcomes, and can even tell your story for you before you even know you have a story.

It’s all very quantum and post modern. Jorge Borges’ short story from over half a century ago, "The Library of Babel" is about an infinite (perhaps infinite) library filled with every story, and every variation of every story. At the end, Borges (or an avatar of Borges) finds comfort only in an idea that there is some overarching meaning to the infinite (perhaps infinite) repetition.

Which is the most human of thoughts, of course, the concept of meaning. Which is also very predictable of humans. Just wait until quantum computing takes off. Just wait until they find that boson "god" particle. Just wait till they flip the Grid this summer, all of which probably won’t unmake existence somehow. Meaning, a human desire, as predictable and probable a pursuit as it is now, will become something they’ll try to replicate—meaning, the thing itself, and not the pursuit.

And they’ll fail, I think.  It should make sense on paper: reality is something humans have yet to fully capture in art or mathematics due to obvious limitations; the right algorithm, then, should produce the most mathematically sound representation of reality and, therefore, meaning, if either of these things exist and are not, merely, human projections. But at least, like quarks and bosons and dark matter, reality and meaning will have an existence in theory, if not by direct observation, in nicely balanced equations, eventually reproducible in text or images via some crafty algorithms.

Here’s why I think they’ll fail. Aside from the more abstract idea that meaning finding itself negates itself (think of it this way: meaning and proof of meaning are matter and antimatter; when the two meet there is nothing), to produce human art a computer would have to find, feel, absorb reality to the point it is overcome, to the point it sobs for release. A computer perhaps could replicate every possibility but could never transfer the energy art requires to exist in the first place.

Proof? If proof exists of anything, this could be offered up as an example of it. Science Daily’s title is apt: Why Musicians Make Us Weep And Computers Don’t. The article details a study conducted by neuroscientists comparing brain responses to music played by humans and to music played by computers:

The study also revealed that the brain was more likely to look for musical meaning when the music was played by a pianist.

"This is similar to the response we see when the brain is responding to language and working out what the words mean," says Dr Koelsch. "Our results suggest that musicians actually tell us something when they play. The brain responses show that when a pianist plays a piece with emotional expression, the piece is actually perceived as meaningful by listeners, even if they have not received any formal musical training."

Why this complex, existential, quantum-theoretical, post-modern monolog? First, I find it comforting to think that scientists’ efforts to negate themselves (and thus, the rest of us) are doomed to fail in matters that, um, matter. Second, do a search on automated content. Yes, algorithms already exist to replace writers and content producers; they are there as algorithms to fool other algorithms, ones from search engines.

While such technology exists to generate money for humans via a kind of Internet pollution, content consumers tolerate certain parts per million so long as algorithms know their place, so long as we can recognize them when we seem them, even if computers can’t.

Phil Parker, though, has "written" 200,000 books with the help of an algorithm and a small staff (of people, not wood). A few people have even bought them, even if some of the titles aren’t all that thrilling. One thing I’ll stake my existence as a writer on, though: there’s not an ounce of soul in all 200,000.

Not that I’ve read them.

Point is: Real content speaks to real readers/listeners/viewers. Real success online comes from real content producers.

*Computers have yet to really match us in commerce, either, but I thought I’d dance around a little in the introduction with my artsy-fartsy tendencies. Computers have helped with mathematics for our insistence on commerce. Likely, an algorithm one day, once the necessity for humans is sufficiently negated, will show how illogical and unnecessarily complex an existence based upon exchange really is. Want is a decidedly human invention.

Jason Miller will complete his Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree in November.


Automated Content Will Unmake Existence
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  • http://plotdog.com PlotDog

    This was a great post.  It hits lots of my interests and perspectives.  Sometimes I feel like the machine when I write and it flows, but I don’t want to be the machine. 

    I would love to have you post your work to our guest authors section of the plotdog press blot.  http://plotdog.com.  I think it will speak to our readers.



    • http://www.revsroadhouse.com Reverend Colin

      I usually skim over these newsletter and was doing just that…reading a partial sentence here and there and wondered…what he hell is he talking about.

      I read the article and found it not only an interesting prospective but….it  explain many of the questions I’ve been mentally juggling.



  • http://www.sakara.net Karras

    For a beautifully written article. My response is similar to Plotdog’s. I’d like to make a copy of your article and place it in my Newsroom, of course with a link to you.  Unfortunately time does not allow me to do this, so please get this article placed in as many places as you possibly can. It is that good. 

  • http://www.artsanddesigns.com/cgi-bin/makeBlog.pl Jim

    Thanks for an interesting read, Jason.

    If you’re interested, it’s worth reading about Kurt Godel’s incompleteness theorems (proved in 1931!) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del’s_incompleteness_theorems for an introduction) which show that in mathematical systems based on a fixed set of rules (even ordinary arithmetic is such a system) there are true statements that cannot be proved using just the rules of the system.

    To prove such statements requires the addition of new rules to the system. And that requires creativity.

    As computers in their present form work with strict rules, this means that there are lots of things that they cannot ‘see’.

    So your job is safe. Until someone invents a computer that doesn’t run with a fixed set of rules …

  • Guest

    I really like your article. It says something that I have been saying for a long time… that certain things are not found and won’t be found in quarks or muons… not even in the dirt actually… God, Love, Hope, Inspiration… little things like that.

    But I think you have happened upon one that will really give Science a bit of a fit… the Meaning of things.

    I see no reason to read any of those 200,000 books either. Would I learn something I didn’t know if I did? I doubt it.

    While I search for the Meaning of my own existence and the more profound question… the Meaning of the existence of the Ones I Love and Who Love Me, searching for the place to give Hope for my Fellow Man, believing the Inspiration to tell all will come to me when I have an answer… all point to one other thing.

    The Chief Programmer who never needed a computer to create or analyze things. He just did it.

    Ironically He used matter and anti-matter to make the place that provides the Meaning for the rest of us.

    I imagine an anti-matter Scientist is at this very moment looking at the anti-matter stuff and trying to to figure out what it Means.

    I imagine the same anti-matter Scientist believes in Love and Hope and all the other things that make us who we are without questioning their existence at all. Maybe his are anti-love or anti-hope but they are the same things to him that Love and Hope are to us.

    The anti-matter Scientist does know one thing though. If he gets together with us matter folks… we will all go poof.

    What’s the meaning of that?

    Good job, Jason.



  • http://www.thephantomwriters.com LinksAndTraffic

    I have been telling the same story for years, although not in ways quite as eloquent as your telling of the story.

    Thank you for the telling. When someone with your reputation and your clout tells the story, other people may actually sit up and take notice.

    Frequently, when I rant against letting computers replace human writers, I get the feelings that my words on falling on deaf ears.

    It is my hope that with your telling, more people will sit up and take notice.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Bill Platt – author

  • universalcommons

    I read your article via my email and found it interesting enough to check this Phil Parker out. I found that in the end the Humanities and the Arts are under no threat of attack. Actualy none of his books are fictional and none are stories at all, but reports on matters of interest to governments, banks and corporations.

    At one point he commented that "I would never try to programme a computer that would write the Harry Potter series"…"the amount of time needed to write a programme would be longer then the human writing the book."

    I do find it amusing that I am being required to solve a mathematical equation in order to verify my humanity and post my comment :) 

  • http://www.fine-art.co.za Tracey Pharoah

    It’s great to find real people who are still prepared to write their own words! Keep the passion alive…

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