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.


1 comment:

LC said...

I love the definition of "slush"!

WP article was hilarious.

If Au returns scores on each submission, it would be fun to reverse engineer the algorithm. If it doesn't take too many iterations, might be worth the $1000. Mostly I want to see how ridiculous the story could be and still win.

It does make me think though -- are there ways to do this that are less programmatic and more human-driven?

Does a site exist that allows users to submit fiction, allow readers to rate (duh!), but also help me find stories I'll like based on aggregate data from the crowd -- a la Netflix / Amazon? I tried a search just now but didn't really yield anything.