Japanese AI Writes a Novel and Nearly Wins a Literary Prize

“The Day a Computer Writes a Novel,” a novel co-written by an AI nearly won the Nikkei Shinichi Hoshi Literary Award, a novel-writing contest held annually since 2013 in honor of Shinichi Hoshi – known as the father of short fiction in Japan.

The Japanese AI novelist was developed by a team of computer scientists led by Hitoshi Matsubara. In 2015, Matsubara and his team submitted two novels which were co-written by the AI to the Hoshi Award, a contest open to both human and AI novelists. In March this year, Matsubara and his team were informed that one of their entries – “The Day a Computer Writes a Novel” – passed the first round of screening.

In order to win the Hoshi Award, an entry has to pass through four screenings by a panel of human judges. The novel co-written by an AI and Matsubara’s team only made it through the first round of screening.

“I thought what separated AI from humans was that AI had not yet acquired sensibility, intuition, and artistic sense. I thought that, if we worked really hard, we might be able to turn such a scenario into reality,” Matsubara told the Japan Times.

“The fact that our submission passed the first screening means that, as Japanese prose, it reached a level considered not incomprehensible; it read like a story at least,” Matsubara added.

According to Matsubara, their AI learned to write novels by reading and analyzing 1,000 of Hoshi’s short works.

For the novel “The Day a Computer Writes a Novel,” the humans came up with the plot, as according to Matsubara, the AI only came up with crappy storylines. The AI, meanwhile, added various descriptions such as choosing the adjectives, weather, sex and name of the lead character.

AIs can learn traits from analyzing past data, Matsubara said. However as to whether AIs can produce works like the Nobel Literature Laureates, Matsubara said, it is hard to tell.