Self-driving cars. Saucer-shaped vacuum cleaners that skitter hither and yon (only occasionally getting stuck in corners). Phones that tell you where you are and how to get to the next place. We live with all of these things, and in some cases—the smartphone is the best example—can’t live without them, or so we tell ourselves. But can a machine that reads learn to write?
I have said in one of my few forays into nonfiction (On Writing) that you can’t learn to write unless you’re a reader, and unless you read a lot. AI programmers have apparently taken this advice to heart. Because the capacity of computer memory is so large—everything I ever wrote could fit on one thumb drive, a fact that never ceases to blow my mind—these programmers can dump thousands of books into state-of-the-art digital blenders. Including, it seems, mine. The real question is whether you get a sum that’s greater than the parts, when you pour back out.