In November, around 100 coders and creative writers are expected to take the National Novel Generation Month (NaNoGenMo) challenge, for which they’ll build computer programs, specialized artificial intelligence, and other digital tools capable of generating 50,000-word novels. According to a survey of 352 AI researchers, AI will be writing bestselling novels 20 years from now—and NaNoGenMo offers a very early glimpse of that future.
NaNoGenMo began in 2013, when author and creative programmer Darius Kazemi saw thousands of human writers drafting 50,000-word manuscripts for November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge and instead invited his Twitter readers to “spend the month writing code that generates a 50k word novel.” Between 100 and 200 people take part each year, a tiny crew compared to the more than 798,000 active NaNoWriMo writers. Nevertheless, according to NaNoGenMo participant Zach Whalen, the coding marathon has generated around 400 completed novels and nearly 45 million words.
“Seeing people in NaNoGenMo use AI and scripting in creative ways has been really illuminating,” said author Janelle Shane, who has participated twice. In November, she will release You Look Like a Thing and I Love You, a nonfiction book from Little, Brown’s Voracious imprint describing her AI writing experiments. For NaNoGenMo 2018, she shared a collection of Dungeons & Dragons character descriptions created by her homemade AI. “AI is going to be used as an increasingly sophisticated tool,” Shane said. “But if you give 10 artists the same tool, they’ll come up with 10 very different things. NaNoGenMo highlights this ingenuity and all the different things we can draw out of the same base model.”