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How do story machines work?

There are three basic types of AI story machine:

  • language generators that craft coherent text, word by word, or by following a story structure;
  • storyworlds such as video games, where characters with goals and desires act out stories; and
  • models of writers that simulate in a computer program how a human author creates and composes stories.

The story generator on this website is powered by GPT-3 from the OpenAI company. GPT-3 is a neural network AI program that has been trained on billions of texts including digitised books, websites and Wikipedia. It acts as a souped-up text completer. Give it some opening words and it carries on churning out text in the same style. A newer version of GPT-3 allows you to give it instructions, such as “Write a prize winning story with the title A Day in Heaven”. That’s the prompt to GPT-3 for this story generator – you can choose the title.

Neural network language generators are expert wordsmiths. They can produce paragraphs of plausible-looking text. But they don’t know what they write. A new generation of AI programs may be able to combine language generators with models of writers, so the programs can create, reflect and revise their stories. However, that’s for the future. 

To find out more, read Story Machines: How Computers Have Become Creative Writers, by Mike Sharples and Rafael Pérez y Pérez, published by Routledge.