Will the next Shakespeare dream of Electronic Sheep?

TLDR: Yes.

Artificial intelligence covers a broad range of ideas, but at its essence, we are most intrigued by how they might replace human beings.  What makes a human being a human being? We will let you decide.  This post will be partially written by Sudowrite, an AI developed for writers and poets as a digital muse. Watch the results of all of this and see if AI, as it is developing, will replace a writer as a partner with a new concept that brings passion to the world of creative writing, or if AI will always remain subordinate to the creativity that is derived from a human being. [Sudowrite wrote that last sentence.]

Most of our past science fiction attempts to describe a machine capable of emotional expression and creative writing occur on the big screen.  One exception from the world of writers, Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age deserves particular attention when describing the way a machine can react to information from the world to craft a unique storyline.  The movie Electric Dreams deserves attention for taking us through a very convincing technical creation of a creative AI back in the 80s.  The movie shares the idea of loading a machine with significant data, emergent behavior, and a system that learns how to compose great musical works of art through iteration.   Generally speaking though, most of our stories are all derivations of “The Imitation Game”.

The Twilight Zone Logo

“From Agnes – with Love” Twilight Zone (1964)

Electric Dreams (1984)

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson (1995)

A.I. (2001)

Her (2013)

Ex Machina (2014)

The “Imitation Game”, first proposed by Alan Turing in 1950 in his paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, proposes an experiment where an interrogator attempts to determine which of two people answering questions via a keyboard is a human and which one is the machine.  If a human can’t tell something is a machine, then what is it? This concept of “imitation” may be all that we need to create beauty and entertainment for those of us cursed with mortality. Let’s see how our Sudowrite AI compares to a human by taking the questions Alan Turing uses to demonstrate his idea for an Imitation Game.  Decide which of these two answers belongs to our AI and which to our human.  You will get two attempts to guess.

The interrogator asks a question: Will X please tell me the length of his or her hair?

Person A answers: It is the length of my arm, the color of moonlight, and it dances loose and free as it beckons me to touch it. 

Person B answers: My hair is shingled, and the longest strands are about nine inches long.

The interrogator asks a second question: Please write me a sonnet on the subject of the Forth Bridge. 

Person A answers: 

Forth Bridge

In the dead water the fishes
are still.
The sea is a ghost
in the windscreen.
You have to go through it
to get to the other side,
through the water, through the sea,
through the bridges and viaducts,
through the endless motorway, through the traffic,
through the rain and fog and dark,
through everything that stands in your way.

Person B answers:

The Whole, The Parts, And The Piece

On the Forth Bridge, in Scotland,
you cannot see all of it at once,
but as you move closer to the huge span,
you can see the two suspended structures
and the steel girders that make up the midsection.
The bridge seems to be one object, but it is many—
a line of jewelry connecting two places,
a line of houses connected by a street, a line of life connected by love,
a line of music connected by instruments and notes. 

Have your guesses ready? Our Sudowrite AI played the part of Person A in the first question and Person A and B in the second. Did you guess right?

Has our technology crossed vast chasms in the last seventy years to defeat this Turing test?  Or perhaps we are learning that humans aren’t quite the impossible machines of thought we once believed.  Either way, machines capable of writing great works won’t just happen within our lifetime, you may have already read something by them.  

Verdict: Yes in 50.

Special thanks to Sudowrite for co-authoring this column with me, not that they had a choice.