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Jonathan Swift in 1726 Predicted AI-Generated Crap Overwhelming Amazon In 2023
In 1726, writer and satirist Jonathan Swift described a knowledge engine by which books could be produced "without the least assistance from genius or study":
Every one knew how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas, by his contrivance, the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, might write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, laws, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study.
The pupils, at his command, took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame; and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of the words was entirely changed. He then commanded six-and-thirty of the lads, to read the several lines softly, as they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys, who were scribes.
Amazon is plagued by something quite similar.
Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited young adult romance bestseller list was filled with dozens of AI-generated books of nonsense on Monday and Tuesday. As of Wednesday morning, Amazon appeared to have taken action against the books, but the episode shows that people are spamming AI-generated nonsense to the platform and are finding a way to monetize it.
“The AI bots have broken Amazon,” wrote Caitlyn Lynch, an indie author, in a Tweet on Monday. “Take a look at the Best Sellers in Teen & Young Adult Contemporary Romance eBooks top 100 chart. I can see 19 actual legit books. The rest are AI nonsense clearly there to click farm.” Motherboard viewed dozens of clearly AI-generated books Tuesday afternoon; by Wednesday, the vast majority of them had fallen off of the bestseller list but were still available to buy on the platform.
For a more modern science-fictional take on this idea, readers might enjoy the novel-writing machine from 1984 (Nineteen Eighty-Four) (1948) by George Orwell, the rthetorizer from The Penultimate Truth (1964) by Philip K. Dick, the electronic bard from The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age (1965) and the verse transcriber from Studio 5, The Stars (1971) by J.G. Ballard.
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