High Score

If old-fashioned books are too boring for you, ebook distributor OverDrive wants to gamify them with interactive elements and video game-inspired achievements and badges for kids who finish their reading homework.

"I actually had a team studying how Fortnite became so addictive," co-founder and CEO Steve Potash told Futurism. "This is why with [OverDrive's student-focused reading app] Sora we have badges and achievements, and we're actually in the school market, creating social. We're not actually saying 'pick a reading squad and go kill some books,' but we're trying to learn from the addictive nature of interactive gaming."

Publishers are already using OverDrive's open-source platform to add voiceovers, music, and even Netflix-like "choose your own adventure" elements to their ebooks. Virtual and augmented reality content are on the way too, thanks to the marriage of artificial intelligence tech, big data, and good ol' fashioned books.

In other words, according to Potash, reading will never be the same.

Book Smarts

OverDrive's team of engineers has also been leveraging its vast pile of library data, Potash said — the company's platform streamlines ebook lending for libraries around the world, so the engineers get real-time information on which books people are reading where, and for how long — to develop new AI tools.

While some of these AI developments are being used to improve OverDrive's smart assistant-style library borrowing app called Libby, others are designed to improve reading habits in tech-savvy schools. That means building algorithms that can predict which books a student will enjoy and want to finish, as well as building new learning tools to enhance the reading experience.

"Sometimes people just want a book with an orange cover," Potash told Futurism. "If kids will read more because their favorite animal's on the cover, we want to know that. AI is helping these institutions become more relevant in serving their functions."

Teachers can even insert quizzes right into the pages of a book — either to streamline homework or to make sure students are reading books at an appropriate age level.

Library Science

The big idea, Potash says, is to make the experience of reading more like a video game or Netflix.

"Everything you can do streaming, you'll be able to do on the page," Potash said. "If a user has a broadband connection, that can happen today because any kind of embedded link on the page can be resolved."

Potash envisions a slew of ways to improve books with AI, like smart assistants that take on the persona of an author, AR content that drops readers inside the historical scene they're reading about, or games built into books that help students learn new words and concepts.

In the meantime, OverDrive is trudging ahead with backend AI systems, that either help libraries buy books that are more likely to circulate or help teachers find books that actually teach the lessons that they want to work into their curricula.

"This is coming, the biggest excitement we have is not the sexy front-end things I can show [on a demo]," Potash said, "but looking at the 250,000 books we have in the classroom, extracting the themes and concepts and aligning those to the curriculum."

More on books and AI: Novelists Have a Boring New Gimmick: Writing Dull Books With AI

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