Could a computer write?

Now that I use tools like Scrivener and Grammarly for my writing it got me thinking about A.I. In particular, could a computer ever write fiction? After all, we are beginning to see computer-generated art and music. Remember the Turing test, where a computer would be able to hold a conversation with a human without the human realising they were talking to a machine? That is already possible with a simple conversation but it isn’t yet robust enough to cope with anything the human might throw at it. Maybe it never quite will be. There are some major problems, such as the fact that some human behaviour is unintelligent and some intelligent behaviour is inhuman. These two points alone are something of a stumbling block for the inherently logical computer. Even Spock struggled in this regard!

Personally, I don’t see computers being able to write any time soon, if at all. What is it to be conscious? Will a machine ever be self-aware enough to be conscious? It isn’t just about knowledge and processing power. Think about sensory perception. A computer could measure the temperature and tell you that it is hot or cold but it cannot feel hot and it cannot feel cold. It can have cameras to see but it cannot see the way we do. An apparently insignificant object in a room would not register any interest to a computer, or perhaps even to another person, but to you it may bring back a flood of nostalgic memories of some event in your past that could leave you feeling happy, sad, angry, wistful or any number of other emotions. That is the key word – emotion. A computer cannot know the euphoria of being in love, nor the devastation of losing love. It can have no concept of pain or worry or joy or comfort. All the things that humans write about; the things that make us identify and invest in a character. Maybe a computer could ‘learn’ to write a love scene by analysing thousands of other love scenes but I don’t believe the result would quite ring true. And that is just one scene. Imagine something as complex as The Lord of the Rings; could you really see a computer coming up with such an intricately envisaged world as Tolkien created?

Ideas. Imagination. Inspiration. Invention. A writer can blend all these things and more to produce a story that can enthral and engage a reader. Perhaps one day a computer will be able to achieve this seemingly impossible task, but ask yourself this – how would you feel about that? Would you be able to read a book if you knew a computer had written it? Would it matter to you? What if you only found out afterwards? Would you feel cheated? Well, I’m not expecting to find out in my lifetime anyway.