Friday, October 03, 2008

Short Answer: NO

Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten's September 21st piece, titled "Illiterature: Can a computer judge fiction?", includes 385 words of custom-built slush. An excerpt:

By Gene Weingarten

The two lovers writhed as one, entwined and moist, like a spool of twine that had been dropped in the toilet.

"Oh, Laurence," Jasmine moaned, her breath the color of warm air.

Jasmine had a very complex character arc. Actually, it wasn't an arc so much as a parabola that could be expressed in Cartesian coordinates as an asymptote with polynomial coefficients, viz., y2 = 4ax, x2 = 4ay. In short, Jasmine was really hard to fathom, the way it's hard to fathom why you sometimes have to type "www" to access a Web site, but usually you don't. Also, she had very perky breasts...

Ow. Ow. My brain hurts.

The point of this exercise was to test a software product--advertised on craigslist, natch--which promises to "electronically analyze the quality and commercial viability of a work of fiction and prompt changes that will make it better." The software, of course, proclaimed that the above text showed "emotional depth," "motivational punch," and "resonance."


I don't even trust the grammar and spell checkers in Microsoft Word. I have absolutely no confidence that editorial judgment, a much more complex undertaking, can be automated. Unless, of course, we're talking post-singularity, and then all bets are off.

In the meantime, I'll stick with good ol' human critiques of my work. Because when I get published, they're going to be the ones buying my books.

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