Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Robot Writing

by Rick Blechta

I began last year’s post with an article about books as works of art. That’s physical works of art rather than written ones.

Call it fateful, but in December I found a very interesting article in the Washington Post about people turning to computerized robots to write invitation, greeting cards, inscriptions and the like.

CLICK HERE for a link to the article.

My first encounter with robot handwriting happened a number of years ago at the (late and lamented) Toronto Book Fair. Believe it or not, Margaret Atwood was there to present a machine the idea for which she had conceived. It was called LongPen. CLICK HERE for a link to the website.

Her idea was being able to attend book signings in remote places (like the Canadian north without actually being there. She would be visible on a computer monitor and attendees could get personally signed and inscribed books by Ms Atwood via her LongPen invention. If you’ve looked at the website, you know how this was accomplished.

I duly took my place in line and after a short wait, got to sit down at one of the LongPens and wrote out something. Being the cheeky bastard I am, it went something like: “Now the amazing Ms Atwood in an inventor. Brava!” She thought that was very “sweet” and thanked me. She even said I could call her Peggy as we chatted about working out the tech details for the prototype. How cool is that?

Now people are using a simpler and speedier riff of the LongPen idea to make their greeting cards seem more personal. Since mostly pre-existing fonts are being used for this, the results don’t seem all that personal.

That’s something like getting computer software to write short stories or books. It can be done, and while the results might be interesting as a mental exercise, we imperfect humans are still definitely needed to conceive of and write works that truly are worth reading.

So why the pretense of sending a personal message when it really isn’t actually personal? It might just be me, but I would be more insulted getting something like this than I would be with some sort of printed out message that isn’t trying to look as if it was actually written by the person sending the message.

How about you? Have you received a faux personalized greeting card? Do you feel the same way?

If you’re going to go to all the trouble of this kind of subterfuge, why not get hold of a LongPen and do it right? Just let me know and I’ll get in touch with my good friend Peggy!

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