Dec 7, 2019 - Technology

AI is the new co-writer

Illustration of a robot hand holding a quill

A recently released AI program that generates hyper-realistic writing has become a powerful tool for storytelling, hinting at a new genre of computer-aided creativity.

What's happening: Inventive programmers are using it to generate poetry, interactive text adventures, and even irreverent new prompts for the popular game Cards Against Humanity.

The big picture: AI-written text is reaching new levels of realism — so much so that when scientists at OpenAI released a groundbreaking text generator earlier this year, they warned of potential dangers from mass-produced fake news. The risks are still present — but recent projects demonstrate the creative upsides.

  • A new text-based adventure — like games from the '70s and '80s where you read a prompt and then type in what you want to do — is built on OpenAI's language model. Players create a new story, generated on the fly, every time.
  • A new book of poetry published this week is made up of AI-generated completions to the beginnings of famous poems.
  • Cards Against Humanity — a popular game where players compete to submit the card that best pairs with an outrageous prompt — used the same model last week to come up with a slew of new cards. Many of them are very funny.

How it works: The OpenAI language model is a bit like autocomplete: Based on an enormous amount of human writing, it predicts the best words to generate next. "Fine-tuning" it on a smaller corpus helps make it sound like an expert on that particular subject.

  • The text adventure, "AI Dungeon 2," was fine tuned with 100+ human-generated choose-your-own-adventure stories.
  • The Cards Against Humanity generator drank a sea of human-written cards.

"It's good enough to generate a story that gets you emotionally invested," says Nick Walton, a senior at Brigham Young University and the creator of AI Dungeon 2. He says he spent somewhere between 200–500 hours on the side project — to the detriment of his GPA.

  • The game's AI — the "dungeonmaster," in D&D-speak — generally deals with human inputs in a highly creative, if slightly wacky, fashion.
  • "It's the first time you can really decide to eat the moon and the AI will respond," says Janelle Shane, a Colorado-based scientist and the author of the upcoming book "AI Weirdness."

When they work, the game, the poetry and the cards can feel like magic. But in reality, they're using tricks of probability and dizzyingly enormous datasets to imitate human speech and all the thought that goes into it.

  • "They can surprise you so consistently. It's just so vivid, the language they come up with, and the ways in which they seem to know what's going on," says Robin Sloan, a Bay Area author who experiments with AI text generation.
  • "And then it does break down and you realize it's not a person or a dungeonmaster or a novel — it's a weird AI with a relatively limited model of the world," Sloan says.

Go deeper: Where will predictive text take us? (The New Yorker)

Go deeper