Writers Need Not Apply

Diane Owens Prettyman. "What I learned in the Kafka Museum in Prague."

Diane Owens Prettyman. “What I learned in the Kafka Museum in Prague.”

In the beginning . . .

The machine age began one Tuesday afternoon, when a Neanderthal in need of anger management therapy chopped off the corners of a granite square, then watched it roll downhill.

Human progress began.

Progress is a cross-dresser. It saunters onto the stage in a three-piece, $150 per yard serge suit – an animatronic that looks like everyone’s favorite actor. Or, politician. Or uncle. Sorry, Shakespeare. Tomorrow is on steroids. That petty pace no longer “struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more.” What we greet with applause, we watch in horror as it morphs everything in its path into redundancy.

The Immunity Theory

“We’re immune from industrialization,” writers have proclaimed through the ages. Yes, we’ve embraced new technologies. Quills, pencils, and typewriters gather dust in antique shops and while laptops hum, casting muted, flattering light on our faces. Machines are servants. Not masters.

No machine could replace us or experience what French philosopher and deconstructionist Jacques Derrida described as “the anguish that we can only say or write one word at a time, and to choose that word is to neglect thousands of words which might do as well or better.”

Safe from artificial intelligence. Until now.

On a recent edition of NPR’s Morning Edition, Stacy Vaneck Smith, a reporter for Planet Money, told what happened when an NPR reporter raced a machine to write the news of Denny’s earnings.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley finished in seven minutes. WordSmith took two.

Judge for yourself. Since you started reading this post, some diabolical engineer deep in the bowels of Automated Insights might be closer to perfecting the angst algorithm.

One more thought. Is that engineer human or computer?

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