Thursday, May 23, 2019


Why sweat over hand-made, brain-wrought blog posts when there is software featuring algorithms and artificial intelligence that can do it faster and easier? Several different kinds of software actually: Yseop Inc. (this one is European, polyglot and claims to be able to do a sales pitch), Narrative Science, Narrative Analytics, Arria NLG and Linguastat among others. They produce, not the clumsy Google-Translate type of thing, but flowing prose used in actual newspapers as legitimate journalism.

An artificial intelligence engine called QUILL, partly funded by the CIA (!), can generate news articles and business reports in English only. In March 2014 the company Narrative Science launched Quill Engage, a free Google Analytics application that delivers narrative style reports for website owners. I availed myself of this offer and here is the abridged robo-written report generated by the Google Analytics stats for my blog:

All Web Site Data Report for the Week of Oct. 06 - Oct. 12
Sessions + 83% -- Pageviews + 105% -- Avg Time On Site + 82%
Sessions Up, Higher Than Annual Weekly Average. Overall sessions
increased by 83% week-over-week. That's more than triple your annual 
weekly average. The rise in traffic was driven by direct sessions, growing 194%.

I must say, I find this report a hell of a lot more interesting and understandable than graphs, charts and figures. Well, maybe not graphs.

At UCLA I recently bumped into someone who was studying internet linguistics, the study of language used by phones and machines which is a related field imitating human speech and part of the trend of replacing human-to-human interaction with human-to-machine interaction.

So, is it just a matter of time until they can produce an artificially intelligent novel?  Maybe it's already being done. Maybe some of all those millions of books out there are robo-books. Will we be able to tell the difference between a robo-novel and a novel written by a real live human?

UPDATE April 16, 2015: 
Philip M. Parker has created a system that can write a book in twenty minutes and it has generated hundreds of thousands of books, many on Amazon.
World Clock by Nick Montfort is a novel generated with 165 line of Python code in about four hours in November 2013 and published in December 2013.

- Published October 17, 2014
                                                                   Artwork above: Matt Groening


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

DISNEY'S NEW LION KING - Live-action or animation?

Disney’s new digital version of LION KING, often shot-for-shot the same as the beloved original, is generating quite a bit of discussion, always a good thing to promote a new movie: 

Is it real or is it CGI? 
If it’s live-action how did the director make the lions talk?
Did the lions have trailers or did they just hang out on Disney’s back lot?
What about the trees, rocks and savanna, are they real?
Why did Disney CEO Bob Iger himself refer to it in a 2018 shareholders meeting as “our upcoming live-action Lion King”?

The lions do look realistic, if a little moth-eaten and arthritic, as do the other animals and the savanna looks quite authentic. But, real live animals lip-synching dialogue, showing emotions and singing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”?
Come on folks, not even Disney can do that.

Of course, there’s no debate as to whether LION KING is live-action or animated.
It's VFX animated.
In photorealistic CGI.
Not one atom of the landscape or fauna is real.
Everything is computer generated. 
Every last whisker and blade of grass is made of zeroes and ones, 
not one drop of flesh or blood or sap.
This article on London’s MPC studios, one of the VFX companies which worked on creating the new LION KING will prove it.

Photorealistic CGI has been used in quite a few films including Disney’s “THE JUNGLE BOOK. The process uses Maya, Motion-capture and Performance-capture (did they put sensors on animals?), roto-capture, roto-animation, volumetric capture, plate-based image tracking, laser-pulsing lidars, photogrammertry, matchmove software, a silver ball that reflects the entire set in its shiny surface to record the position of the lights and a chrome ball to record the intensity of the lights, new real-time rendering and much, much more.

Obviously, a big question in this artificial debate is: are these realistic lions going to break into “Hakuna Matata,” “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” or “Circle of Life”?

And, for heaven’s sake, why keep recycling old animated movies for the built-in nostalgic audience factor? Disney is huge and rich enough to take a chance on something new. Something innovative. Something even as mildly innovative as 

Frankly, judging from the trailers, this technique has a certain “Uncanny Valley” look to it and is quite scary in its implications. How long till someone uses it to bring a dead actor back to “life”? Is all this “live-action” talk just promo or is Disney preparing us for a brand new “live-action” version of SNOW WHITE starring Carrie Fisher and James Dean?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


I don’t know about you but I'd rather not have to label my writing. If literary labeling needs to be done at all, (and, apart from broad categories like FICTION and NON-FICTION, I don't think it does) isn't it something for others to do? Like agents, publishers, reviewers, booksellers, readers?

Agents are now classified by genre and books are “genrified” by their covers, blurbs and promotion. Even some publishers are classified by genre. So, by simply choosing an agent, I’m labeling my work. And, by labeling my work I'm making an unwanted mission-statement and writing for a limited audience.

Labels are limiting and they often dumb-down for age and gender. Gender genres like “women’s fiction”, “romance” and “thriller”, can prevent readers from branching out and reading more eclectically. (By the way, there is a glaring omission in the list of genres
“Men’s Fiction”)  

Literary labels are supposedly a guide for readers but aren’t they more of a marketing tool for publishers? Here’s a chat by Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro on the subject. 

Everything today seems to need a label, a mission statement or a sub-title. The better to sell it. People even subtitle life itself these days by muttering "awkward" during a pause in conversation. I think this comes from TV and movies which is another "genre". Many writers write with a movie deal in mind.

Writing for a "genre" must surely discourage unique voices. We’re told “voice is everything” but if your “voice” doesn’t fit a genre will anybody hear it?

Is literature considered a genre? Is any book with big words and deep thoughts literature? Or does the sheer length of a book make it literature, like THE GOLDFINCH, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, INFINITE JEST, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX?

Would these classics now have the Young Adult label:
CATCHER IN THE RYE, ROMEO AND JULIET, GREAT EXPECTATIONS? Would MADAME BOVARY be considered “romance”? Would MOBY DICK be a “suspense thriller”? GONE WITH THE WIND: “chick lit”? CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: “crime”?

And how long would we tolerate the concept of GENRE if the English word TYPE/KIND/SORT were used instead? Would we want to be called TYPE WRITERS?

Friday, July 17, 2015