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AI beyond spell-check: Editor's Notes #251
January 10, 2018
Hello,

Take Google Maps or Waze.
On the one hand, they amplify human ability — you are able to reach your destination faster and more easily.
But at the same time, you are shifting the authority to the algorithm
and losing your ability to find your own way.

—Yuval Noah Harari


In this issue:

1. AI beyond spell-check
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt

1. AI beyond spell-check
AI stands for artificial intelligence, and it’s moving into new areas at a quickening pace.

When did you last physically use scissors to cut something from a manuscript or use tape or glue to put bits in? My computer has been taking care these tasks as well as many others, including checking spelling and grammar and finding specific pieces of text for decades. More automation might be on the horizon for writers.

Stephen Marche teamed up with researchers at the University of Toronto to create an algorithm that would help him to write a sci-fi story. They used software to analyze the traits of fifty of Marche’s favourite sci-fi writers to develop rules. They used the rules to create software that warned Marche when he was straying too far from the rules and that let him know when he was on track again.

The final result, a short story called "Twinkle Twinkle", was published in Wired in December 2017.

Editor Sandra Kasturi of Chi-Zine Publications, an expert in sci-fi, found the story better than most of what comes across her desk but publishable only with further work.

The algorithm "automate(d) the process of influence" in that it steered Marche as he wrote, keeping him inside some fences. In this case, fences created by previously successful writers.

Although there were weaknesses in the text caused by the algorithm (too many adverbs and sexist treatment of women, for example), Marche said he could have corrected for those problems once they were pointed out. So even though the algorithm had difficulties, there may be a time when software like this is available to writers. And note that writers are still needed.

To my relief, Marche doesn’t think editors are in much danger. "The thing about editors is that…it’s a profession that requires extremely refined entirely human abilities to process stories." On the other hand, he believes an algorithm could help editors with their slush piles, those stacks of stories writers submit. The algorithm finds too many problems, and whoosh goes the story to the round file. That’s if the editor is working for a publisher.

You can keep your writing out of the round file by submitting to an editor who works for you and who will tell you when you are too far beyond the fence. I am always looking for interesting projects to engage with.

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2.Tickled my funnybone
If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

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3. Interesting Web site
I have two links for you today.

Access the audio of an interview with Stephen Marche or a transcript of the interview at this link:
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-january-3-2018-1.4470118/can-an-algorithm-make-science-fiction-better-author-stephen-marche-finds-out-1.4471085

Read an annotated version of "Twinkle Twinkle" here. (I was not able to see the entirety of the notes in this version, but I could get the gist of them.)
https://www.wired.com/2017/12/when-an-algorithm-helps-write-science- fiction/?mbid=nl_120617_daily_intro

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4. Writing prompt
Adverbs often sneak into writing when the writer has a small vocabulary of verbs. How many verbs can you come up with to replace the word walked? I’d love to see your list when you are done!

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