An AI and an artist go on the road. "The idea was to write a novel with a car."

This AI created its own version of Kerouac's classic.
1 the Road is a novel written by an AI about the classic American road trip. (Pixabay)

Ross Goodwin, Creative Technologist with Artists and Machine Learning at Google, built a machine that can write literature. 

Ross Goodwin is the Creative Technologist with Artists and Machine Learning at Google, and the artist behind 1 the Road. (Twitter)

That machine is an AI program, which has been trained on samples of fiction, but that also draws on input from the real world. Those inputs are: a camera that takes pictures of the world around the car, a microphone that records conversations inside the car, a GPS that tracks its location, and clock to note the time. All this feeds into a computers, which uses these inputs to generate sentences, and then prints them out onto rolls or receipt paper. 

While the machine Goodwin built did the actual writing, he still feels responsible for the results. "The idea was to write a novel with a car as the writing instrument," Goodwin told Spark host Nora Young. 

"I do very much feel ownership of the work, even though it was created from a diverse variety of sources. The project was my idea, and I don't want people to misattribute it to some supernatural force or science fiction concept. This was a computer program that I created, that I put in a car and drove across the country with."

The book the machine wrote is called "1 the Road" and, like the Jack Kerouac novel that inspired it, it centres around a road trip. In this case, from New York to New Orleans. "Everything that evokes the American literary road trip was essential to this project," Goodwin said.

Three seconds after midnight. Coca-Cola factory, Montgomery. A building in Montgomery to his father's study of this town in the same room where the band was being sent off to the police car. 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.- Excerpt from 1 the Road

Unlike other art projects created by artificial intelligence, 1 the Road was presented exactly as it was created. "One of the reasons I left the typos in the book, why it's choppy and I didn't edit it is because my sort of not-so-secret ulterior motive here is to show people what machine generated text looks like in its most raw form," Goodwin said, "so that 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."