In Brief
Sure, an AI that can solve math problems and beat the world's chess Grand Master is cool, but an AI that can write a book? Now that's impressive. And a national literary award giving body agrees.

The Book Writing AI

“The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.”

A pretty profound line—considering this sentence is part of a book that was actually co-authored by an artificial intelligence (AI).

While it may not have won the top prize, this short-form novel, which was a collaboration between humans and an AI program, managed to make it through the first round of screening for a national literary prize in Japan called the Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award.

Titled ‘The Day A Computer Writes A Novel,’ the short story was a team effort between human authors, led by Hitoshi Matsubara from the Future University Hakodate, and, well, a computer. Matsubara, who selected words and sentences for the book, set the parameters for the AI to construct the novel before letting the program take over and essentially “write” the novel by itself.

The team submitted two entries for the literary prize—one of which made it through the first round.

Computing Creativity

Hitoshi Matsubara, a professor of artificial intelligence at Future University Hakodate, talks about his team’s AI project in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on March 21. (Naoko Kawamura)
Hitoshi Matsubara, a professor of artificial intelligence, talks about his team’s AI project. Credit: Naoko Kawamura

This is the first time that the Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award has received submissions written by AI programs. Out of 1,450 entries, 11 were apparently written by non-humans.

“I was surprised at the work because it was a well structured novel. But there are still some problems [to overcome] to win the prize, such as character descriptions,” stated Satoshi Hase, a Japanese science fiction novelist who was part of the press conference surrounding the award.

By and large, AIs have been given computational tasks that require a strict sequence of problems to solve. However, creativity, which is an element inherent to all literary work, is pretty hard to quantify, which makes this AI’s achievement particularly impressive.

While its output may have been based on a strict sequence of construction rules, who’s to say that future efforts won’t improve on the current capabilities of autonomous AI? And soon, our greatest works—works that perfectly capture what it truly means to be human—may not be written by humans.