1 the Road
1 the Road is an experimental novel composed by artificial intelligence (AI). Emulating Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Ross Goodwin drove from New York to New Orleans in March 2017 with an AI in a laptop hooked up to various sensors, whose output the AI turned into words that were printed on rolls of receipt paper. The novel was published in 2018 by Jean Boîte Éditions.
Goodwin left the text unedited. Although he felt the prose was "choppy", and contained typographical errors, he wanted to present the machine-generated text verbatim, for future study. The story begins: "It was nine seventeen in the morning, and the house was heavy".
Concept and execution
Emulating Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, Ross Goodwin traveled from New York to New Orleans in March 2017 with the AI, in the form of a long short-term memory recurrent neural network. Three sensors provided real-world input: a surveillance camera mounted on the trunk was trained on the passing scenery, a microphone picked up conversations inside the car, and the Global Positioning System (GPS) tracked the car's location. Input from these sources, and the time provided by the computer's internal clock, was fed into the AI program, which in turn generated sentences on rolls of receipt paper.
The car was a Cadillac; Goodwin explained later he wanted an "authoritative" car (and was unable to get a Crown Vic), and worried that people might think him a terrorist if they saw the car with its electronics and wires. Google paid part of the cost, having become interested in Goodwin's work at New York University. Accompanying him were five other people (including his sister and his fiancee), and the Cadillac was followed by a film crew which documented the four-day journey; the documentary was directed by Lewis Rapkin.
Input and output
The AI program had been trained to sample fiction in preparation for the novel-writing journey. Goodwin fed it three different text corpora, each with about 20 million words--one with poetry, one with science fiction, and one with "bleak" writing, in Goodwin's words. It had also been fed a data set from Foursquare; the AI recognized locations from Foursquare, and appended commentaries to them. The conversations captured inside the car were rendered in mutated fashion. The locations provided by the GPS were outputted verbatim, to open the day's writing.
The AI generated the novel letter by letter. Due to continual input from the GPS and time clock, the novel often mentions the latitude, longitude, and time of day. It was printed unedited and thus is "choppy", according to Goodwin; typos were retained, since he wanted to show the text "in its most raw form". He believes the AI is capable of writing literature, but still feels responsible for the guidance and ownership of the content. Goodwin says his main purpose for this novel is to reveal the way machines create words: "In the future when this text becomes more sophisticated it's a warning. If you see patterns like this, it may not have been written by a human".
Thomas Hornigold, writing for Singularity Hub, concluded that the AI is no Jack Kerouac, but that "you might see, in the odd line, the flickering ghost of something like consciousness, a deeper understanding". Brian Merchant, writing in The Atlantic, read the entire novel in one sitting. He could not recognize a coherent plot or story arc, but saw "plenty of pixelated poetry in its ragtag assemblage of modern American imagery. And there are some striking and memorable lines".
Ross Goodwin biography
Ross Goodwin, a former ghostwriter for the Obama administration and a creative technologist, has often used neural networks to create poetry and screenplays. Notable works include the short film Sunspring, starring Thomas Middleditch and directed by Goodwin's frequent collaborator Oscar Sharp, and Word.Camera, an 1885 bellows camera that outputs poetry about whatever it is pointed at when the button is pressed. His Master's Thesis at New York University was a project called "Narrated Reality", for which he walked around the city with a backpack containing compass, punch clock, and camera; data from these devices was fed into an LSTM neural network whose output was "weird associative poetry". A year after 1 the Road, Google hired him to work with their Artists and Machine Intelligence project.
- "All the time the sun / Is wheeling out of a dark bright ground".
- "The time was one minute past midnight. But he was the only one who had to sit on his way back. The time was one minute after midnight and the wind was still standing on the counter and the little patch of straw was still still and the street was open".
- Thomas Hornigold (25 October 2018). "The First Novel Written by AI Is Here—and It's as Weird as You'd Expect It to Be". Singularity Hub. Archived from the original on 29 October 2018. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
- Merchant, Brian (1 October 2018). "When an AI Goes Full Jack Kerouac". The Atlantic.
- "An AI and an artist go on the road. "The idea was to write a novel with a car."". CBC Radio. 14 October 2018.
- Newitz, Annalee (9 June 2016). "Movie written by algorithm turns out to be hilarious and intense". Ars Technica. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
- "word.camera". FutureofStorytelling. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
- "Narrated Reality--Ross Goodwin". New York University Tisch School of the Arts, Interactive Telecommunications Program. 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
- Automatic On The Road - Gonzo AI Robot Writes Road Trip Novel, 11-minute documentary by Lewis Rapkin