one vowel is enough

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.


Tue 27

Robots Wrote My Book

Writing Last week I did an interview on Reddit and was asked about my new novel, “The Ascension’s Mirror.” This was a surprise because I didn’t know I wrote that. But Goodreads had it listed, saying I was the author. There was also a reader review:

I’m a big fan of Mr Barry’s work and was happy to see this new offering. I’m having a little trouble getting through it, because of the language. He is replacing words and phrases. For example “She laughed at my futile endeavours in the direction of identify some type of popular flooring with her,” means (roughly) She laughed at my attempt to seek common ground with her, or something like that.

I’m hoping that it will eventually be worth it. . . .

There was a second novel by me, “Cry in the Redemption,” which I definitely didn’t write, either. Both were for sale on Amazon as Kindle books.

At first I thought there must be another Max Barry out there, writing books. I know there are a few Max Barrys around, such as Better Max, and some other Max who can’t remember his email address, so I’m always getting notes from his grandmother and warnings from his ISP. Seriously, Max. Get it right. The other day your boss sent me a stern note, asking why I hadn’t responded to his earlier note. The reason your life is in tatters is because I get all your important emails.

But no, other Maxes were not writing novels. In fact, no-one was writing these, I realized, because the writing is not just awkward but nonsensical. From its official description on Amazon:

We can’t inform oneself considerably unless be mindful just after oneself examine this. They are waiting around for us towards adhere our necks out and deliver a miscalculation, and your self may well accurately contribute them in direction of us. Your self include been warned.

This reminded me of a piece of text run twice through Google Translate, once to turn it into a different language, once to turn it back. I’d heard of web sites doing this to steal content, because the end result is different enough that it doesn’t look so much like plagiarism.

I asked my agent about this, and they asked Amazon, and within a day the books were gone. Poof!

So apparently this happens: Bots auto-generate novels under the names of real authors and put them up for sale in the hope of confusing readers. Which is kind of cool. Not for us, of course. Not for humans. But I always knew the robot apocalypse was coming, and have been looking forward to seeing what shape it takes. I didn’t think they’d be writing novels.

P.S. The real question is what the original text was. The bots auto-translated something. I don’t know what, though.


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stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Posted: 1548 days ago

interesting Max - your love affair with artificial intelligence - I remember a sci-fi title "I, Robot" - well I was thinking about the translation that challenged your penmanship with some prolix - it seems likely that artificial wordsmiths have garrulous failings - then I thought about the soul of the machine - primarily its need to be expressive - and damn the "meaning" - is this what machines are? - human wannabes demanding to be heard above the clamor - the void is a human disease mimicked by machines - oh well, Solomon's credo about there never being anything original still maintains its credibility - it did occur to me simultaneously - that "I" could be the machine in question - the stanley paradox

Machine Man subscriber M.I.Minter (#347)

Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Quote: "When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."
Posted: 1548 days ago

We can't tell you much except be careful after you read this. They are waiting for us to stick out necks out and make a mistake, and you might just lead them to us. You have been warned.

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 1548 days ago

Actually a pretty good title

Hank Mishkoff (#6424)

Location: Dallas, TX USA
Quote: "Purchase only authorized editions."
Posted: 1547 days ago

I've heard that some books "just write themselves." I thought that was a metaphor, but apparently it's literally true.

Machine Man subscriber Michael Harrell (#2372)

Location: Olathe, KS
Quote: ""Every day we must persevere. For we are engaged in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress."Adapted from the masthead of "The Economist""
Posted: 1547 days ago

I have questions about who is the writer in the case of an artificial intelligent? Does the creating of the work make the machine an author? If so, does the online posting then pulling make the construct a published writer, having self published online or a banned author having had the book removed due to protests? Does the program get the designation or the hardware? What does the computer say at cocktail parties, "yes, I'm a published author, recently banned online, working on my next work. Gibberish really, I write the my work under a psodonym." Does stuff like that really help him meet the right kind of other software? Confusing, assuming I'm not over thinking the writer monicker a bit, wondering what others takes are on when an artifical intelligence get's to call their self a writer?

1001.0010.0101 (#925)

Location: Turn left at your CPU
Quote: "How can something be deemed artificial if it is itself. e.g. A.I."
Posted: 1547 days ago

Wait a minute, your real name IS Max Barry!? Well I'll be a veeblefetzer.

Lancer Kind (#1547)

Location: Redmond WA
Quote: "Be nice to the man with the gun."
Posted: 1546 days ago

I've got this friend named Deckard. He's a cop who takes care of things like artificial authors. He's got this test which is brilliant. Just say so and I'll put you in touch with him. Btw, Max you should take the test too. Just in case.

Machine Man subscriber Xdrngy (#4517)

Location: Massachusetts
Posted: 1543 days ago

There are these things called Markov chains - complicated comp sci stuff, but the long and short of it is you can feed it a text and it'll start spitting out sentences that make some sort of grammatical sense, with words that sound like they should come after one another. That's what it was 'translated' from.

People have run all kinds of ridiculous scams using them - some people have tested the legitimacy of certain scientific journals by seeing if they'd publish a Markov chain (spoiler: they did)

Try googling "Markov Chain Generator", you'll get some fun results

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1538 days ago

@Minter, that is it exactly. Very very good. Now do the titles!

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