Others have gone before us. Here are a few whose thinking is relevant to the task ahead.
The toolmakers had been remade by their own tools.
For in using clubs and flints, their hands had developed a dexterity found nowhere else in the animal kingdom, permitting them to make still better tools, which in turn had developed their limbs and brains yet further. It was an accelerating, cumulative process; and at its end was Man.
The first true men had tools and weapons only a little better than those of their ancestors a million years earlier, but they could use them with far greater skill. And somewhere in the shadowy centuries that had gone before they had invented the most essential tool of all, though it could be neither seen nor touched. They had learned to speak, and so had won their first great victory over Time. Now the knowledge of one generation could be handed on to the next, so that each age could profit from those that had gone before.
I had made up my mind to find that for which I was searching even if it required the remainder of my life. After innumerable failures I finally uncovered the principle for which I was searching, and I was astounded at its simplicity. I was still more astounded to discover the principle I had revealed not only beneficial in the construction of a mechanical hearing aid but it served as well as means of sending the sound of the voice over a wire. Another discovery which came out of my investigation was the fact that when a man gives his order to produce a definite result and stands by that order it seems to have the effect of giving him what might be termed a second sight which enables him to see right through ordinary problems. What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.
The most successful men in the end are those whose success is the result of steady accretion. That intellectuality is more vigorous that has attained its strength gradually. It is the man who carefully advances step by step, with his mind becoming wider and wider — and progressively better able to grasp any theme or situation — persevering in what he knows to be practical, and concentrating his thought upon it, who is bound to succeed in the greatest degree.
You cannot force ideas. Successful ideas are the result of slow growth. Ideas do not reach perfection in a day, no matter how much study is put upon them.
When we speak of content generation, an important question is what sort of content generation. Are we going to let systems loose on the world that generate thousands of hours of entertainment for us with no human input while we lie back, passively absorbing and enjoying it Wall-E style? Or are we going to develop systems that amplify our better instincts, becoming a way for us to improve our existing abilities at generating content. This is akin to a pair of eyeglasses giving us super eyesight for our existing ability to see.
Marshall McLuhan would have seen our technology as falling into this second category. He saw media as an amplifier, an extension of man. Like Clarke, he saw Man's tools as working in a continuous feedback loop with Man's development:
- We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.
- We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”
- First we build the tools, then they build us.
- All media are extensions of some human faculty—psychic or physical.
What Is “Content Creation?”
These perspectives serve to inform our approach to this pursuit: an iterative, collaborative approach. We expect researchers to gain insight not only through the process of creating and deploying algorithms and tools, but also by seeing how these tools are used in ecologically valid contexts.
What is “content creation” going to be? It can fall on a spectrum. At one end are tools which create content with almost no human input. At the other end are tools which augment the human ability to create new content, while leaving the human creator as part of the process—tools which augment rather than replace human creativity.
An ideal solution is encompassed by one single architecture with various parameters which set where on this spectrum a particular instantiation of the system and its algorithms are. It is more parsimonious for our system to, with the adjustment of some parameters, be able to slide along the spectrum from automated to assistant, rather than having to develop two or more separate architectures.
Is It Live...?
We imagine tools that create content with minimal human input are possible. Press a button and you get a new Shakespeare play, a new political platform, a new episode of I Love Lucy. As just noted, at the other end of the spectrum are tools which augment the human ability to create new content while leaving the human creator as part of the process. The choice between which of these two types of tools we favor rests upon, amongst other things, what our philosophy of the role of “content” is within the context of human society.
Is content merely meant to be a “shiny new thing” to distract us, something to help us make it through the day? Or should content, whether it is entertainment or news, writing or video, always be an actual communicative act emanating from an individual or individuals outwards towards other individuals? No matter how many proxies (editors, producers, directors, actors, cinematographers) may be between us the consumers and the originators of the content, is content always at base a communicative act between human beings? If so, then is a tool of the first type, one which creates content without human input, a frightening simulacrum, like Harlow's cloth surrogate mother monkeys, satisfying us by only pretending to be real?
These are all issues that are just as important as the technological challenges we face. As we pursue improvements in deep learning and natural language processing algorithms and how they are used, we must also consider what roles we wish them to take on as they become increasingly sophisticated and integrated into our daily lives. Are we to become increasingly passive consumers of ever more irresistible distractions that are the output of ever more sophisticated algorithms that are fine-tuned to provide optimized, personalized content, or are our tools to be used to help humans improve and extend their own skills at self-expression, and thus maintain humanity's position in the driver's seat?
The choice, at least for now, is ours.