Our new millennium has witnessed an incredible, rapid growth in technology based on the handling of information through complex, computerized systems. Responses that have become even more necessary in our rapidly-changing, interconnected world. What was science fiction in the past millennium has now become reality. The benefits are clear for all to see: our pocket-sized smartphones give us immediate access to communication, social interaction, music, photography, navigation, encyclopaedic information, entertainment, banking, health monitoring. The list is long and will only get longer as the years pass.
The buzzword of our time is AI – Artificial Intelligence. We are talking about what is properly described as “narrow” (or weak) artificial intelligence, in which computers exploit algorithms and focus on performing one task well, and much more quickly than the human brain could perform it. This narrow AI might be dedicated to security through facial recognition, to translating from one language to another, to navigating, soon even to driving our cars with a high degree of autonomy. What many researchers are seeking to achieve, however, is what we may call strong or Artificial General Intelligence. While narrow AI may outperform humans at whatever its specific task is, like playing chess or solving equations, AGI would outperform humans at nearly every cognitive task.
There are some who doubt that Artificial General Intelligence will ever be achieved. Others again wonder if we want to achieve this. Is there a risk of generating forms of artificial intelligence that could surpass human intelligence and dominate humankind?
The other fascinating question is whether AI can be developed to move into fields where logic and computational capacity are not paramount. Could an artificial intelligence achieve fantasy, creativity, humour, aesthetic sensibility? Could a machine ever truly substitute an author? What would happen if the author were an algorithm?
We probably imagine that the answer is no – “machines” will not make us laugh, compose music or write (great) literature. We may be in for a surprise as experiments on literary composition in the “hands” of artificial intelligence are already emerging. We wait with bated breath for a new current of writers!
We believe that the best way to approach the topic of the relationship between Artificial Intelligence and writing is to confront it with a concrete example. The first example of a "novel" entirely written by an Artificial Intelligence is 1 The Road, published in 2018 by Jean Boîte Éditions. The novel is considered the first example of a text entirely written and edited by Artificial Intelligence and represents a cultural and literary product that deserves attention and careful reflection.
The activities proposed below are structured as a series of steps:
- Step 1: Gathering background information about the novel and the context that made it possible;
- Step 2: Exercising critical thinking through a Thinking Routine;
- Step 3: Reading and analysing an excerpt from the first narrative text written by Artificial Intelligence;
- Step 4: Promoting a student-led investigation and organising a debate on the topic of the relationship between writing and Artificial Intelligence.