Encyclopedia Ocelotica: Robot writers – “noble trades will be taken over”


People who do real jobs – you know, coal miners, weavers, deep sea divers and such like – view the future with a certain amount of trepidation.

Because eventually, as sure as night follows day, these noble trades will be taken over by robots.

The only human input being the poor sap whose job it is to keep aforementioned machines oiled up and ready to roll.

Meanwhile, those of us who don’t do real jobs, the creatives, smugly raise a single eyebrow above our tortoiseshell glasses and say something helpful like ‘well… I suppose that’s progress’ before going back to whatever important piece of work we were up to – agonising over a series of colour swatches or twisting ourselves into knots over what is the most suitable font for a particular magazine cover.

However – there’s a little fly floating about in the ointment, a pin poised to burst the bubble of these untouchable professions – with the creation of an artificial writing programme that can produce chillingly plausible news articles, fiction and prose…

It is the brainchild of OpenAI – a not for profit lab backed by Elon Musk – the multi-millionaire Bond villain behind the self landing rocket and the electric car.

The new writer, called GPT2 rather than Sebastian or Annabelle, uses statistical analysis applied to swathes of writing created by humans to create contextually convincing writing.

A similar approach is used by the automatic reply feature in LinkedIn and Gmail – which suggests a variety of plausible responses if you can’t be bothered to think of your own small talk.

It’s freakishly good whilst also being weirdly bad at the same time.

I pasted the first paragraph of this article into the writing engine – and this is what GPT2 came up with:

People who do real jobs – you know, coal miners, weavers, deep sea divers and such like – view the future with a certain amount of trepidation.

Well, maybe they need a lot of help just now?

A good friend of mine from the early 70s remembers his father making a good living working on a small boat.

This was well before robotic arms would be a viable replacement for hands. They just needed a few skilled craftsmen and a lot of elbow grease.

It raises more questions than it answers…

Firstly, why was he just a good friend from the early 1970s – what happened to him in the mid 70s? Was there a huge falling out over the merits of Swedish pop sensation Abba?

And let’s not forget his father who made a good living on a small boat, before robotic arms became a viable alternative to hands.

Remember that? You know when we were all using our biological arms? It seems so quaint when you look back at those simpler times where ‘skilled craftsmen and a lot of elbow grease’ seemed to be the order of the day.

To be honest it’s a lot more interesting than a some of the press release turds I have to polish every day.  But also it reminds me of the sort of conversation that you might have with someone in a pub or perhaps the darker reaches of Facebook – where it slowly dawns on you; “You’re absolutely stark raving bonkers aren’t you?”

I will leave you with the frightening and prophetic final thoughts of GPT2:

Nowadays, a few people work in such industries and have a good life. The rest get nothing more than a few scraps to their names and can barely get by.

I can’t blame them.

The only thing to do in these times is to find new ways to make a living. And that’s the challenge.

There’s a simple strategy to get people excited about a future technology.

Annoyingly it stops there, I suppose we will never know the simple strategy we can use to get excited about a future technology.

I  really hope it doesn’t involve replacing our arms or destroying all of the humans.

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