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A Writer's Robot

Any minute now, we’ll all have robots in our homes. Hoorah!

Even better, we won’t have to go to the office, because another robot will be doing our job - with greater reliability, less resentment, no swearing, or taking a suspiciously long time to make tea, or maintaining circular discussions of 80s pop lyrics with its coworkers.

I’ll be able to write all day. Whoop!

Which robot do I want to help me with that? C3P0 talks too much. Bender would drink all my booze. Marvin the Paranoid Android may have a brain the size of a planet, but all his million ideas point to certain death.

‘Don't you call me a mindless philosopher you overweight glob of grease!’

C3PO, Star Wars

‘My story is a lot like yours, only more interesting 'cause it involves robots.’

Bender, Futurama

‘My capacity for happiness you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first.’

Marvin the Paranoid Android, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

I’m going to have to design my own. Oh look, here’s a list.

Functional Specification for a Writer’s Robot:

  1. Does the housework and the laundry. Does it silently and invisibly.

  2. Guards its writer from interruption. Probably with lasers.

  3. While its writer sleeps, corrects that day's comedy typos, spelling goofs, ridiculous word-slips and basic grammar fails. Never mentions them.

  4. Each time its writer sighs, says ‘you are an undiscovered genius’. Says it really convincingly.

  5. Makes another immaculate cup of tea as soon as its writer’s forgotten cup has gone cold.

  6. Character name generation, with optional genre filters.

  7. Instant research of tiny obscure and hard to find details its writer will probably edit out later.

  8. Night-time amanuensis: notes down that idea its dozy writer is mumbling about being brilliant.*

  9. Drafts synopses that make its writer’s manuscript sound like that of an undiscovered genius.

  10. Writes queries to agents and editors; submits and monitors for responses; rephrases rejections into flattering regret; fakes regretful rejections from the ones who never reply.

  11. Offers tissues.

  12. Never, ever, ever calculates its writer’s chances of success, not even when their writer asks.

*Come the morning, these ideas will reveal themselves to be bonkers, but I got to use the word amanuensis.

My robot will look a tiny bit like Ursula K Le Guinn or Kurt Vonnegut. But not in a weird way. It will smell like a second hand bookshop. I will call it Quill.

But wait! I hear you cry. Won’t these imminent robots take over the writing of books too? Then what shall we be for, exactly?

AI bots are already writing fan fiction and horror fiction and autofiction. One AI-written book in Japan, called The Day a Computer Writes a Novel, got through the first round of a literary competition.

My prediction is:

a) bot fiction will be a sub-genre to every sub-genre, but readers will be few, because

b) following our workplace obsolescence, there will be so many of us humans writing that we will all be reading each other’s novels.

What a wonderful conversation that will be.

Much as I'm looking forward to Quill showing up, probably in a big cardboard box with assembly instructions, I don't plan on asking it for ideas, or critique. Until Quill remembers and imagines, until it yearns and fears, unless it dreams day and night, has illogical faith, and love, unless it is unique in its perception and interpretation of the world, I will not be as interested in Quill’s thoughts as I am in people’s.

Except, of course, whenever Quill’s saying I’m an undiscovered genius.

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