Current daily news reports remind us how important words are. Spoken and heard or written and read, good communication depends on clarity of thought and intention. Can Artificial Intelligence improve our writing? And what might that mean for authors?
Sir Harold Evans, distinguished editor and author of Do I Make Myself Clear?, makes a strong case against the evils that have infiltrated much of today’s writing. His greatest angst comes not from errors in grammar and spelling, but from the type of intentional deception too frequently found in political and business statements. His anger is aimed at the lack of moral responsibility for fairness.
Evans is not a fan of Twitter. “Twitter’s wonderful for assertion. It’s absolutely useless for argument. You cannot deploy an argument of even the simplest kind in 140 characters.” On the other hand, Evans doesn’t believe in dithering around with useless verbiage. He observes the sage advice from his wife, editor Tina Brown: “Get to the point. Your point’s down here in paragraph 29. What the hell are you doing with it down there?”
The rules of good writing for articles and essays also apply to books, fiction as well as non-fiction. Readers need to understand what the author intends to convey and they must believe what they’re reading.
San Francisco-based tech firm Grammarly uses machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to improve users’ compositions; not just spelling and grammar but also recommendations on readability and clarity. The free app, available for the Chrome browser, Microsoft Word and Windows desktop is designed for a variety of compositions. Grammarly hopes to expand its capabilities, even to the point of helping users integrate humor.
So far, Grammarly does not suggest it can turn writers into successful book authors. “It’s not for replacing humans,” said Grammarly co-founder Max Lytvyn. “It makes humans more powerful.”
I suppose AI will one day (if not today) be able to figure the story elements and writing styles that appeal to the masses and create best sellers. But the best books, the best stories and the best writing will always need human curiosity, imagination and spirit to reach beyond algorithms. It takes a human mind and a human heart to break the rules.