Will I be replaced by a neural network?

Thursday, November 14, 2019 21:00

Neural networks and machine learning are all the rage these days. From those truly horrifying deepfakes -- which are definitely going to accelerate the downfall of a society that doesn't even want to believe in provable facts anymore -- to translating long-dead languages. But what about the creative arts? Will machine learning put human authors out of work? I've decided to play around with Talk to Transformer to see how it deals with my writing.

First one up: the beginning of BLACK KNIGHT.

Juno fought to keep her eyes open and on the road. The cassette deck’s auto-reverse click-clacked and the old, worn-out mix tape of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s greatest hits began playing Bad Moon Rising for what felt to Juno was the hundredth time. She didn’t mind. Some things never grow tiresome. A dark road stretching arrow-straight for hundreds of miles across the American Southwest wasn’t one of them.

And here's how Talk to Transformer continued the story:

Juno turned on the radio. The station was already playing the song, and the only thing she could hear was the song’s singer singing:

"He had a bad dream/He saw a bright light/And it took a bite out of him/It was one bad moon/A long bad night."

She stared at the road. The moon still hung high in the sky, and the stars shone brightly.

Well, not bad. Didn't quite get the lyrics of Bad Moon Rising right, but not bad. Has a certain mood. Let's continue with the beginning of chapter 2:

"This isn’t really happening."

Juno slammed the door of her car shut and for the first time in hours turned off the cassette deck.

"I’m just tired, that’s all."

She glanced outside the window. By now there were six lights dancing in the sky above her, moving in circles, speeding up and speeding down in a way no satellite or airplane would.

Talk to Transformer instantly takes it to a very dark place:

Juno let out a long breath.

"They're going to come out and kill me."

And now I need to die, she thought to herself.

Damn. That's actually pretty cool. All right, how about that one spoopy reveal?

The creature stepped forward into the cone of light coming from the nightstand. It was about four feet tall, of a small build with greenish-gray skin, long arms, slim hands with four long, slender fingers and a big, bulbous head. Two big almond-shaped black eyes looked at Juno and the corners of its small, lipless mouth curled up into a smile.

“Heya kiddo,” it said.

Talk to Transformer continues:

"You got some new toys?”

"New toys," she said, her lips quirking up. "The new toys, huh?"

The green-skinned monster, which must have been as large as Juno's chest, turned its head toward her and laughed. "The new toys! The old toys? That was a long time ago! And I'm glad you finally came back."

Uuuuuuh. Okay. That's ... um. Okay. How about the beginning of It's The Great Pump Gun, Juno Price?

Juno Price pushed the door to General Patterson’s office open and walked in without knocking first.

“Good morning, Patterson!” she said, smiling widely.

Patterson looked up from his paperwork at the young woman.

“We’ve talked about knocking, haven’t we?”

“Once or twice. But I’m still hoping one day I’m gonna catch you with your pants down.”

“Why would I have my pants down in my office?” Patterson asked, continuing to fill out his paperwork.

Talk to Transforms thinks this is how it continues:

“Because I want to see you naked,” he answered, not even looking up.


“Because I'm not into the whole ‧pussy grabbing‟ thing.”

Patterson turned red, but didn't respond.

Um. I mean, sure. Why not. I'll overlook the misgendering here, because the gay angle is giving it an interesting twist. Let's take another part of that story:

Juno parked her black Camaro in front of her old childhood home that she now shared with her stepmother Kathryn Gallo and her best friend MJ. She had realized that if anyone from outside of the small town of Hobbs End, New Mexico, was to ask who MJ was, the easiest answer with the least follow-up questions was, “oh, he’s my best friend.”

Talk to me, Talk to Transformer:

When Juno told Gallo that she and MJ had just returned from a trip to Mexico she had taken to save money for school, Gallo was aghast. For many years, Gallo had been a public school teacher, and she was not interested in paying tuition for a school where students could be known to her colleagues as ․ the ones who came in, had the best stories and made the school their second home. She felt that the town of Hobbs End, which

Yeah, it kinda falls apart at the end there. Unsurprisingly (this is the internet, after all), it seems to be working much better when there's some kind of sexy angle to the text. So let's try another part:

“What is it, sweetie?” Kate asked.

“Nothing,” Juno said and continued looking at Kate.

Kate frowned.

“What?” she repeated.

“Nothing,” Juno said and quickly glanced over to Patterson before looking back at Kate. Then she put her lips around the neck of the bottle and slowly pushed it in and out of her mouth.

Take it away, Talk to Transformer:

She took another breath and opened her eyes.

“What's going on?” Kate asked as she felt Juno's teeth pressing in.

“My dad has some new stuff.”

Kate nodded and leaned over to get a better look at the bottle in her hand.

“What's that,” she asked, her voice a low murmur.

I am really not sure what's going on there, but now I want to read more. So I put that text in and this is how Talk to Transformer continued its own story:

“My dad is going to get another bottle.”

“Why does he have another bottle,” Kate asked, more softly now.

“I don't know.”

Kate looked over at Juno's back, and the black-furred wolf was leaning over the counter to get at her father's bottle. She hadn't realized just how heavy it was; the thing looked like a stone

Wait, what? Where did the wolf come from? Tell me more, Talk to Transformer!

and weighed two and a half pounds, though Kate didn't think her dad was that kind of drunk.

“It's in the trunk,” she said. “And it's not going to go anywhere, I promise. I'll be right here when you get back.”

“Okay,” Juno said, †she's getting that thing right.”

"You're not going to get it right!"

Okay, I'm hooked!

she hissed at the top of her lungs.

"Well," said Kate, raising an eyebrow at her father, "then let's see if you can get it wrong." She turned to her friend. "Julia?"

"Sure," the redhead said. †I'll let you know.”

‹Okay,” Juno said, standing from the table and stretching her arms out, "let's get this over with."

Who's Julia?

〈I'm sorry,” Kate called out to her friend. 〈I'm sure you know that you're going to make us both look bad, but I think you should at least apologize to me first,” she added. 〈This is not how we normally do things.〉

"I'm sorry, too," Kate said. She raised her hands to her forehead, her fists clenched, the corners of her mouth twisting up

That weird punctuation is coming verbatim from Talk to Transformer. You can see it falling apart. All right, let's give it a fresh start. Here's It's The Great Pump Gun, Juno Price again:

Juno reached for the door handle, but then hesitated for a moment before knocking.

“Come in,” Patterson’s voice came from the inside.

And here's Talk to Transformer:

‹There's something you should know. The door to the bedroom is locked. I don't know if it's the front door or something else, but if it's the other one, it's a dead giveaway.‼

The door was locked. ‹Wait,› said Marco, starting to stand, then stopping when he heard a faint click.

‹You didn't even say who did it?‼

‹Don't be stupid,‼ Marco continued, trying to sound confident. ‹The only people who have the tools to do that are those who are the most powerful and the smartest and have been doing it for a long time.‼

The door was unlocked.


I think the answer is: no, machine learning is not going to put human authors out of work any time soon. Did you test it with your writing? Tell me!

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