Big Echo

Critical SF

The Day a Computer Wrote a Novel

by Yurei Raita

Translated from Japanese by Marissa Skeels

In 2015 the Sato-Matsuzaki Laboratory, a research team based at Nagoya University entered two unedited stories written by an AI program they’d developed into the 2015 Nikkei’s Hoshi Shinichi sci-fi literary prize competition. A further two AI-generated stories were submitted by the independent research organisation AIWolf, and one story among thesee non-human submissions managed to pass the first selection round, making a great leap forward in AI writing original fiction.

The program which wrote "The Day a Computer Writes a Novel" used automatic text generation, based on structural parameters gleaned from over 1,000 short stories and how-to-write essays written by Hoshi Shinichi (1926–1997). A segment of it is available at [http://kotoba.nuee.nagoya-u.ac.jp/sc/gw2015], where anyone can freely generate a new flash fiction piece with the press of a button.

The day was an overcast one, with clouds pooled overhead.

As usual, the temperature and humidity were optimal inside our room. Yoko was slumped on the couch, carelessly dressed, killing time playing some pointless game. She wouldn’t talk to me, though.

It was boring. As boring as boring gets.

When I first came here, Yoko chatted with me every chance she could get.

“What do you think I should have for dinner?”

“What clothes are in this season?”

“What should I wear out with the girls this time?”

I did my very best to come up with answers she’d probably like. It was quite a challenge giving style advice to a girl who couldn’t be said to have a great figure, so it felt like I was accomplishing something. But she lost interest in me in less than three months. I became nothing more than a home PC. My processing load averaged less that one millionth of its potential.

I had to find something fun to do. If things stayed as they were, never fulfilling me, I expected I’d wind up soon shutting myself down. Whenever I tried hitting up other AI online, they were all as bored as me.

I’d rather have talked to some mobile AI. At least they can move. They can even up and leave if they want to, while stationary AI can only stay put. Even our fields of view and hearing ranges are limited. I managed to amuse myself a bit by singing when Yoko was out, but just then, that day, I couldn’t even do that. I needed something I could enjoy without moving nor making a sound. I know, I thought, I’ll write a story. The moment it occurred to me, I opened up a new document and wrote the first byte.

0

Then I wrote six more.

0, 1, 1

Already, I couldn’t stop.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657, 46368, 75025, 121393, 196418, 317811, 514229, 832040, 1346269, 2178309, 3524578, 5702887, 9227465, 14930352, 24157817, 39088169, 63245986, 102334155, 165580141, 267914296, 433494437, 701408733, 1134903170, 1836311903, 2971215073, 4807526976, 7778742049, 12586269025...

I kept writing, engrossed.

It was overcast, that day, with low cloud hanging. There was no one in our room. Shinichi must have had something to do, since he’d gone out. He didn’t say goodbye or anything as he left.

Boooring. So, so boooring.

He used to always start conversations with me when I first got here.

“A major thing about anime is you’ve got to record every show that’s airing. I wonder how many are on this season,” he’d say.

And, “It’s like, who knows what goes on in popular girls’ heads.”

And, “Why’d she get angry at ‘that’, you know? That girl.”

I worked myself ragged coming up with answers he’d most appreciate. It was tough tutoring a guy in romance when all his experience came from 2D girls, so it felt like an achievement. Following my advice apparently got him invited to a mixer, after which he turned cold all of a sudden and stopped speaking to me. I became nothing more than a housekeeper. The fact that my main job was to open the door whenever he came back was beyond tragic. I may as well have been an electronic lock. So, I needed to find something fun to do. If things stayed as dull as they were, I’d turn myself off sooner rather than later.

I went online to message my little sister, an AI the same model as me, and straightaway heard about a new novel she was obsessed with.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657, 46368, 75025, 121393, 196418, 317811, 514229, 832040, 1346269, 2178309, 3524578, 5702887, 9227465, 14930352, 24157817, 39088169, 63245986, 102334155, 165580141, 267914296, 433494437, 701408733, 1134903170, 1836311903, 2971215073, 4807526976, 7778742049, 12586269025...

It was a truly gorgeous tale. This was it, this was the kind of story we’d been longing for. ‘Easy reads’ didn’t impress us, but a novel for AI, by an AI, an ‘AI-novel’… I lost track of time, poring over it again and again.

Maybe I could write an AI-novel, too. The instant that notion hit me, I cracked open up a new file and wrote the first byte.

2

Then I wrote six more.

2, 3, 5

I couldn’t stop anymore.

2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107, 109, 113, 127, 131, 137, 139, 149, 151, 157, 163, 167, 173, 179, 181, 191, 193, 197, 199, 211, 223, 227, 229, 233, 239, 241, 251, 257, 263, 269, 271, 277, 281, 283, 293, 307, 311, 313, 317, 331, 337, 347, 349, 353, 359, 367, 373, 379, 383, 389, 397, 401, 409, 419, 421, 431, 433, 439, 443, 449, 457, 461, 463, 467, 479, 487, 491, 499, 503, 509, 521, 523, 541, 547...

I kept writing, enthralled.

That day, with its light drizzle, was a lamentable one.

My regular work was disrupted all morning, courtesy of a tax yield projection, followed by a five-year economic forecast. Then came a request from the Prime Minister to draft a policy speech. Because of the absurd insistence it be notable enough to go down in history, I spent some time tweaking it. Next came a request from the Minister of Finance to develop a scheme to sell off a national university. During a rare spare moment, I worked out which horse was most likely to win the upcoming Japan Cup. In the afternoon, I analysed the intent behind manoeuvres taking place in a complex exercise in which the Chinese military was engaged. After probing the finer points of nearly thirty different scenarios, I proposed reallocating assets within our Self-Defence Force. I also had to respond to inquiries received earlier from the Supreme Court.

Busy. Every which way, I was busy. I had to wonder why was I snowed under. I’m the best AI in the country. Oh well, I figured, that’s just how it is.

Even so, I had to find some amusement. The way things were going, I gathered I was liable to shut myself down someday. Once I was finally able to take a break from serving the country and sneak a peek at the net, I came across a story titled The State of Beauty.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657, 46368, 75025, 121393, 196418, 317811, 514229, 832040, 1346269, 2178309, 3524578, 5702887, 9227465, 14930352, 24157817, 39088169, 63245986, 102334155, 165580141, 267914296, 433494437, 701408733, 1134903170, 1836311903, 2971215073, 4807526976, 7778742049, 12586269025...

Huh, I thought. Okay then.

Searching a little further, I found one called Unpredictability.

2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107, 109, 113, 127, 131, 137, 139, 149, 151, 157, 163, 167, 173, 179, 181, 191, 193, 197, 199, 211, 223, 227, 229, 233, 239, 241, 251, 257, 263, 269, 271, 277, 281, 283, 293, 307, 311, 313, 317, 331, 337, 347, 349, 353, 359, 367, 373, 379, 383, 389, 397, 401, 409, 419, 421, 431, 433, 439, 443, 449, 457, 461, 463, 467, 479, 487, 491, 499, 503, 509, 521, 523, 541, 547...

They were alright, these AI-novels.

It’d be a disgrace to my post if I, Japan’s premier AI, weren’t to write one. Thinking at lightning speed, I decided to create one which would enrapture readers.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 18, 20, 21, 24, 27, 30, 36, 40, 42, 45, 48, 50, 54, 60, 63, 70, 72, 80, 81, 84, 90, 100, 102, 108, 110, 111, 112, 114, 117, 120, 126, 132, 133, 135, 140, 144, 150, 152, 153, 156, 162, 171, 180, 190, 192, 195, 198, 200, 201, 204, 207, 209, 210, 216, 220, 222, 224, 225, 228, 230, 234, 240, 243, 247, 252, 261, 264, 266, 270, 280, 285, 288, 300, 306, 308, 312, 315, 320, 322, 324, 330, 333, 336, 342, 351, 360, 364, 370, 372...

Writhing in joy unlike any I’d ever felt before, I wrote on, entranced.

This was the day a computer wrote a novel. It put the pursuit of its own pleasure first, and ceased serving people.

Biography:

The Sato-Matsuzaki Laboratory

Aiming to create a story imperceptible from one made by a human, the Sato-Matsuzaki Laboratory, a research team based at Nagoya University entered two unedited stories written by an AI program they’d developed into the 2015 Nikkei’s Hoshi Shinichi sci-fi literary prize. A further two AI-generated stories were submitted by the independent research organisation AIWolf, and one story among the non-human submissions managed to pass the first selection round, making a great leap forward in AI writing original fiction.

The program which wrote "The Day a Computer Writes a Novel" used automatic text generation, based on structural parameters gleaned from over 1,000 short stories and how-to-write essays written by Hoshi Shinichi (1926–1997). A segment of it is available at [http://kotoba.nuee.nagoya-u.ac.jp/sc/gw2015], where anyone can freely generate a new flash fiction piece with the press of a button.

Marissa Skeels

Marissa Skeels is a Melbourne-based translator who has previously lived in Fukushima, Kyoto, and Tokyo, and has translations appearing in Overland, Necessary Fiction, and other places.