Authors beware: computers can write fables

UNSW researchers seek input from authors, game designers for computer program

Researchers at the University of New South Wales have developed a computer program with the artificial intelligence to write stories in the style of Aesop.

The program, developed by UNSW PhD candidate Margaret Sarlej, creates fables around specific combinations of emotions or desires felt by characters in the story. The (human) user of the program can choose from a selection of 22 emotions.

“A human author simply decides an interesting emotional path for the story, and the computer does the rest,” said Sarlej.

“The computer decides the events to elicit those emotional responses from the characters, and the characters do whatever the plot needs them to do.”

The program is based on a logical translation of the OCC psychological model, which is named after its creators Ortony, Clore and Collins.

Australian Research Council fellow Malcolm Ryan has predicted that computers “will be making interesting and meaningful contributions to literature within the next decade”.

“They might be more experimental than mainstream,” said Ryan, who is based in the School of Computer Science and Engineering, “but the computer will definitely be doing some of the work of writing.”

The researchers have called for authors, computer game designers and other creators to contribute to the project.

“For us, this is a serious literary project, and we want to find artists who can help direct it to that end,” said Ryan.

“How will this technology be used? It is impossible to predict. We hope artists will take it up and create things we’d never imagined.”

UNSW provided the below example of a fable created by the program, based on the moral of retribution:

Once upon a time there lived a unicorn, a knight and a fairy. The unicorn loved the knight.

One summer's morning the fairy stole the sword from the knight. As a result, the knight didn't have the sword anymore. The knight felt distress that he didn't have the sword anymore. The knight felt anger towards the fairy about stealing the sword because he didn't have the sword anymore. The unicorn and the knight started to hate the fairy.

The next day the unicorn kidnapped the fairy. As a result, the fairy was not free. The fairy felt distress that she was not free.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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