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Google’s new prototype AI tool does the writing for you

Remember that time when Google showed its artificial intelligence by demonstrating conversations with Pluto and a paper airplane? That was made possible by LaMDA, one of the latest generation of conversational AI models from Google. Now, Google is using LaMDA to build Wordcraft, a prototype writing tool that allows creative writers to write new stories.

AI-powered writing tools are not new. Chances are you’ve heard of it grammatical or copywriting tools like Jasper. What makes Wordcraft a little different is that it was designed as a means to help create fictional work. Google describes it as a sort of “text editor with a purpose” built into a web-based word processor. Users can ask Wordcraft to rewrite sentences or make a sentence funnier. It can also describe objects when prompted or generate prompts. In a nutshell, it’s like packing an editor and writing partner into a single AI tool.

GIF of Wordcraft in action

How Wordcraft… tinker
Image: Google

To test Wordcraft, Google created a workshop with 13 professional writers to see how well the prototype worked. While the writers seemed to appreciate Wordcraft as a way to spark new ideas, they unanimously agreed that the tool wasn’t going to replace authors anytime soon. For starters, the tool wasn’t great at sticking to a narrative style and produced average or clichéd writing. It also stuck to tried and true tropes and also steered clear of “mean” characters.

“A clear finding was that using LaMDA to write full-length stories is a dead end. It’s a much more effective tool when used to add spice,” Douglas Eck, senior research director at Google Research, said at the AI@ event.

Obviously, every prototype has kinks to work out. It’s also hard to fully understand what it’s like to use an AI-powered creative writing tool. So I was curious to see a demo of it at Google’s AI@ event.

I started by giving Wordcraft the prompt ‘penguins swim’. It then generated a few different story ideas, and since I love baby animals, I went with a mother penguin sitting on her eggs. From there, I could tell Wordcraft to continue the story, add another prompt, or talk to a chatbot for more ideas. I chose to highlight the “eggs” and give Wordcraft more description.

The results were all surreal – one described the eggs as having a leathery texture, but I went for the option where they were the size of grapefruits and covered in down feathers. (It doesn’t matter that eggs covered in feathers aren’t really a thing.) I won’t go into every prompt I’ve tried, but I did at one point have Wordcraft shorten a long continuation into a single sentence, as well as let the chatbot cause a conflict (hence the seal eating mama penguin’s babies).

Image of a Wordcraft generated story about baby penguins.

An epic Wordcraft-generated saga of a mama penguin and her eggs. Or babies? Baby eggs? You get the idea.
Photo by Victoria Song / The Verge

As you can see from the final product, the writing is quite simple. There are also many things that contradict – the baby eggs are eaten, but then a baby floats in the ocean and is rescued? Despite the fact that they never actually came out? Secure! Another quirk was that I had to manually copy and paste what the chatbot suggested into the main window. Any other prompt can just be clicked and added automatically.

In the end, it’s like Eck said. After the demo, I couldn’t really imagine writing a full story this way, but it was a fun way to generate ideas. The final product would never work on its own – I’d be too embarrassed to even put it on AO3 as a March of the Penguins fanfiction. But I could take the general idea — a mama penguin fighting a seal to save her eggs — and rewrite the lyrics into a more fun, less robotic story.

Wordcraft is clearly still in the experimental phase. That said, the prototype used to be fun to use, even if I was mainly trying to see how absurd I could get with a single prompt. If you’re curious, check out nine stories that emerged from the Wordcraft Writers’ Workshop here. They are quite wild.

Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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