Here’s what happens when you let bot write a book review

The results are odd and sometimes funny.


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In Ridley Scott's classic movie “Blade Runner,” set in November 2019, machines, aka androids, are “more human than human” – both extremely dangerous and extremely intelligent.

It's November 2019, for real this time, but we're far from dealing with perfect robots. Depending on who you ask, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and its subset, Machine Learning (ML) is simply either the most promising, or the most overrated segment of modern technology.

To those curious about the current capabilities of AI, OpenAI provides a degree of insight into ML-trained text-generating models.

OpenAI's product is dubbed GPT-2 – and either to hype it or out of genuine concern, the organization originally published only a very limited version for testing – saying it feared the model could be misused to generate credible fake news and peddle spam. However, OpenAI is now saying there has been no proof of this, and in early November “the largest yet” version of GPT-2 was made available to the public.

At play here is a dataset of 8 million web pages scraped from the internet, while the purpose of the exercise is to train a language model that will develop coherent text, capable of passing off as human-created. All that remains is to be done now, is discover if this tech stands up to scrutiny.

Blogger Shruti Ramanujam, who writes book reviews, decided to put GPT-2 to work on her site This is Lit Blog, to see how well it might perform as her replacement.

The model was trained using the entirety of written content published on the blog and produced a series of sample articles. The bot's musings included reviews of real and non-existent books and made-up titles for non-existent books. The experiment also created “an abusive, not-straight (literary) character,” a Goodreads synopsis, generated the blogger's bio, and a series of “memoir prompts” – all based on the site's human-written articles.

Some examples from Shruti Ramanujam's This is Lit Blog. Check out the blog for more examples.

“Book Reviews The Black Swan by Yasser Arafat and Yohai The Black Swan is a beautiful novel about a group of friends who all love books, but when they are bored of their books, they all start doing stupid shit.”

“Here is a review of The Frozen Tundra by Jodi Picoult! She is an author who never fails to impress! I can hear her voice when I watch my copy of this book, but she really can’t stop laughing and laughing at things. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend you read it!”

“Frozen is a classic, with a very dark tone and yet beautiful story…and if you love black and white and classic, you will like this one too. The story follows the adventures of an old polar bear cub. I have no idea of the colour scheme of the bear, but I can say it looks amazing in the dark. The book ends with the bears finding the land around them, but I also love the snow.”

Ramanujam provides snippets from the samples, demonstrating that the result is a mixed bag at best. She described some of the results “hilarious.” But if the question is, “Can bots replace human writers?”, the answer GPT-2 provides is still a resounding “no.”

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Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovich is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovich is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]
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