Back in 2016, an AI wrote a movie script. Fast forward to last year, when another AI took it upon itself to write a novel, 1 the Road.

The 2016 movie, Sunspring, was written by Benjamin, a long short term memory recurrent neural network. Sunspring was somewhat confusing, but if you want to watch it, it’s available in the post I wrote about the movie. Benjamin has since retired, at least his website now belongs to a non-artificial Benjamin1.

Since AIs don’t reliably create new AIs – yet – Benjamin was the brain child of a human, Ross Goodwin. Goodwin describes himself as a “creative technologist, hacker, gonzo data scientist, and writer of writers,” who uses technology to create works of art. In 2018, he set out on another adventure. Goodwin hocked a camera, a GPS, and a microphone to a computer, placed everything in a car, and went on a road trip from New York to New Orleans.

Using input from the camera, GPS, microphone, and the computer’s internal clock, a neural network would then narrate the entire trip. A printer in the back seat printed a hard-copy of story as it progressed.

Is it Game Over for Human Authors?

The neural network was trained on hundreds of books, many written by Goodwin’s favorite writers. Foursquare location data was also an important part of the neural network’s knowledge. Whenever the AI saw or heard anything it considered interesting it would write down how it interpreted it. As with Sunspring, Goodwin’s novel-writing AI make some rather artsy, oddly illuminating observations:

“A light on the floor between the corners of the house reached out to the car and then went out through the barn. Light on the floor, the painter said. I have nothing to do. I could have made a big start off. I want to go away from there, the time has come.”

1 the Road

It will probably be a while before AI-authored stories will be the main bulk of the books in my A Book A Month project. But this surely is an interesting use of neural networks. At least it’s not being taught how to kill.

1 the Road is available for purchase from Jean Boîte Éditions. There’s also an in-depth article about the 1 the Road project over at the Atlantic.

Footnotes

  1. Or, Benjamin has evolved considerably, and started working for a Fortune 500 company.