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The robots’ long march

THIS SPRING saw a spate of books worrying us about the potential for artificial intelligence to take over "white-collar" work. In particular, in Rise of the Robots software entrepreneur Martin Ford asserts that websites such as are making more use than they admit of software like Quill, which generates news reports from raw data.

ROTI Korean English-teaching robot; Matt Salusbury

ROTI - the English-teaching robot developed in 2011 by the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology and currently in use in the country's state schools.

The book appeared at the same time as Culture Crash by Scott Timberg, who was an arts reporter for the Los Angeles Times before the paper cut its culture coverage, and The Internet is Not the Answer by CNN columnist Andrew Keen.

Interestingly, all three acknowledge their intellectual debt to Who Owns the Future?, a 2013 book by Jaron Lanier, the researcher who coined the term "virtual reality" (see the March Freelance). Once again, Lanier has started a trend.

And in George Gissing's New Grub Street we find this:

"A few days ago her startled eye had caught an advertisement in the newspaper, headed 'Literary Machine'; had it then been invented at last, some automaton to supply the place of such poor creatures as herself, to turn out books and articles?

"Alas! The machine was only for holding volumes conveniently, that the work of literary manufacture might be physically lightened. But surely before long some Edison would make the true automaton; the problem must be comparatively such a simple one. Only to throw in a given number of old books and have them reduced, blended, modernised into a single one for today's consumption."

Others who have until now failed to read Gissing's wonderful documentary fiction of publishing toil should know that it was published in 1891. He thus raises the image, lovely to some, of a coal-fired artificial journalist crafted from black iron and polished brass...

Last modified: 28 Jun 2015 - © 2015 contributors
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