Over the last year I’ve learned a bit about AI through working for tech website, OxGadgets. I still don’t know enough about it though and wish I had done more research into AI and what it can really do for writers and their stories. I have recently been listening to a computer generated story, written using the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm called The Princess and The Fox. Let me share a bit of background information about this story with you before I go any further.
I’m a big fan of an app called Calm. Some of you might have heard of it. Calm is a wellness app that features a daily guided meditation practice, a selection of calming background noises like burning log fires and crashing waves against sand as well as relaxing music and a library of audio books called “sleep stories” which are bedtime stories for adults. There are travelogues, short stories, excerpts from classics and even a special shipping forecast, which is so boring it would probably send a elephant on speed to sleep. I would say it’s the sleep stories that I use most often.
I recently noticed an audio book appearing entitled The Lost Grimm Fairy Tale, narrated by Erik Braa, whose voice is the most soothing noise I have ever heard. As a fan of fairy tales, and a fan of Mr. Braa, I opened that book and read the blurb. It said it was “a never-before-heard fairy tale generated by artificial intelligence.” That intrigued me and I decided to listen.
The Writing Process
So, here is what happened in a nutshell. An artificial intelligence company teamed up with the creators of the Calm app and decided to come up with a new story, inspired by the works of the Brothers Grimm. They fed all of the existing Brothers Grimm stories into predictive text software, which then took the most commonly used words and sequences of words used by the Brothers Grimm and used them to suggest a string of words and phrases that seemed to have been used a lot and seemed like they might be the building blocks of a story.
After this a team of humans (who are unnamed, or at least, I can’t find out who they are online) used these words and phrases suggested by the predictive text software to build a story. The computer worked on it, then the humans worked on it. It went back and forward between man and machine until they came up with something that was coherent and listenable. The result was The Princess and The Fox.
But Is It Any Good?
The Princess and the Fox makes very little sense, if I’m honest. There’s a golden horse with a golden saddle and a flower in its hair at the start of the story, which seems cool and a Princess of Jorindell. But then there’s some mention of a King of Bread and Cheese? Hmm, sounds like my husband.
He’s ordering the Princess of Jorindell around and wants her to marry a prince. The prince has a younger brother, who was raised as the miller’s son and this boy has a conversation with a talking fox about the Princess of Jorindell, as she is locked away by the King of Bread and Cheese in a cellar. The story seems to start in the middle of a story. And I just don’t understand why the Princess spins in despair. A lot of things happen that mean nothing at all and the story isn’t coherent, as promised. But then isn’t that typical of Brothers Grimm stories? Well yes, but not to this extent. However, when you’re drifting off to sleep, the exact meaning of words that are said or not said pass you by. I’ve never hard the whole story because it does send me to sleep.
Does This Mean We Can Revive Dead Writers Like The Brothers Grimm?
Calm are keen to stress that The Princess and the Fox is not the product of one machine or team of human writers. Rather it is a product of the process. So, it cannot legitimately be called a Brother Grimm story. It’s more like fan fiction, written with the assistance of artificial intelligence. But what does this mean for fans of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens or any other dead writer? Can we now use artificial intelligence to capture the spirit of their imagination and write stories in their style? It could be argued that the software collects ideas they subconsciously had.
As a writer, I’d be interested to know what AI would make of the stories I’ve written. Since I’ve dipped into a few different genres, the only stories it could plausibly scrape ideas from are the Leger stories. There are 26 of them and I’m sure there is plenty of information there for a computer to work with. They all follow the same format and it would use my vocabulary so might adapt my style. However, my opinion is that it would only be able to do this once. If predictive text software is collecting my most commonly used words, it would have very little to work. It is ultimately up to the human writer or writers sorting through this information to come up with something readable.
It is food for thought though. And listening to such a trippy fairy tale before bedtime has given me some ideas for my own fairy tale series.
Which writer from the past would you revive using artificial intelligence?