Friday, June 3, 2016

Your Future Competition: R. Author

Automation, far more than immigration, is the real threat to the social order of the world's nations. We've been feeling the effects for some time, as robots took more and more menial bitch work away from human hands in manufacturing. Then they took the skilled work, de-skilling it into bitch work, until now where a plant operates on a fraction of the labor it used it. Other heavy labor sectors are feeling that pinch, and now it's coming into the services like a tsunami.

"But Walker, I'm a professional writer! I'm safe!"

Like Hell you are.

Writing is a craft, and that means it has predictable structure to it that can be and has been codified into a program. While it is currently automating the bitch work (Do you see the pattern yet?), once the software is sufficiently refined it will begin deskilling the knowledge workers who currently do analysis reports and similar fact-based (but predictably solvable, due to pattern-based logic) work. Now that one such robot suite is free, expect that time to come sooner than later.

"But Walker, I write fiction professionally! I'm safe!"

Oh please. Go look at that GIF again. The vast majority of fiction, "literary" (what bullshit) or "genre", is just as predictable and tied to a knowable structure as news reporting. That you can sell books on writing fiction, focusing on structure and other craft elements, also means that you can turn all of that into a useful algorithm that takes input like a Mad Lib and spits out commercially-viable fiction. The future crap Syfy Originals will be where this starts, followed by the better horror films, and then blockbusters will come forth that are mostly or wholly written by robots.

Ten years, easily, until R. Author is a real and immediate competitor. Twenty on the outside. The variables aren't even with the software, but wholly external factors behind the scope of this blog post. A child born today will come of age in a world where his new entertainment is robot-written, both the story and (for games) the coding.

Where, for most of us who write either professionally or as a sideline hobby, does that leave us? Don't expect the quality of robot copy to be crap for long; if the Associated Press can plug in their style manual into their bot and get the reliably good results that they do, it wouldn't be hard to do the same for fiction. Polishing may be something left for humans, but most of the dredge work? Robots. Yes, including that first draft and making the covers.

In the end, we may become nothing more than folks playing with online forms filling in blanks and polishing the results before feeding it into the robot audiobook creator and formatting it for Print On-Demand and E-Reader, something that we may be doing for whole manuscripts multiple times per day. It'll be like the days of the pulp magazines once more, only digital and worldwide: still making the same shit pay, while hustling even harder to get it.

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