Dec 28, 2016

The Algorithm, the algorithm --- whatever you make of this

The GREEN EYES are listed on Inkitt, an AI-agent and publisher---"AI" here in the sense of artificial intelligence, the computer science discipline we taught the last ten years of our previous life, and "agent" in the sense of literary agent. Yes.




And they've just sent us an email. You don't have to read this, but just in case:


"Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!

Congrats! Your novel  [the GREEN EYES in our case] is in the top 10% of novels in the Genre Preliminaries and has been awarded a spot in The Final Round. Your work will now join the best performing novels from the other genres in a face-off for the $1000 Grand Prize. The Final Round is an exclusive, invite only, closed contest.
Announce the big news to your fans, and keep sharing your knockout novel if you want to be top dog! The winner will be selected by the Inkitt algorithm based on level of reader engagement so you will need to win over as many members of the crowd as possible. Call in your hypemen and round up your groupies to help you spread the word about your latest win and find new support to secure your title as Champion. 
Best of luck!
Your Inkitt Team"

Think this through. They have an algorithm---if you scroll down, you'll find a fragment of ours, written weeks ago, involving algorithms, but don't scroll down yet---an algorithm that's supposed to pick winners on the basis of readers' reading behavior. And the next thing is, they ask their authors to work around the algorithm and mobilize their "fans," no matter what. Best of luck. (For more bickering, scroll down-down.)

And here's the fragment---hold on, let's start a little competition of our own: who's the biggest fool in This Is Heaven? The mayor, Bienpensant, John himself perhaps? No---it's Inspector Mario LaStrada of course, the detective (who's still missing from or Green Eyes zoo, inexcusably). Here goes, from Chapter 41, "The Game Is up"---John's fourth and last encounter with the inspector: 


LaStrada must have found time taking a class in creative writing since he says: “Did you bring the handcuffs that you were wearing so convincingly on, on…”

(we make eye contact)

“…Tuesday,” I help out.
“Well-put,” he replies, “Tuesday night.”
“You didn’t ask me to bring them,” I say.
“You should keep them handy. It appears that the long arm of the law is not yet done with you.”

I surprise myself by saying: “Last time it was my teaching French at SGC that you wanted me to confess, what would it be this time?”

“Not so fast,” he says, “not so fast.” The case we are dealing with is of the utmost complexity, perhaps the most complex of his long-standing career. We are looking at a veritable conspiration of forensic causes and consequences, beginning with the suspicious passing-away of Mr. Neill Palmer and his pledge of considerable funds towards the Georgia Beach Festival 2014. “You, Mr. Lee, have been an intimate friend of Mr. Palmer, have you not.”

“No,” I say (Palmer was a pure rice queen).

LaStrada re-studies the fish: “But, Mr. Lee, isn’t it true that you have been intimately involved with the Festival?”
“Well, intimately is a big word. I’m on the jury, yes.”
“And why would that be so?”
“Me on the jury?”
“Yes.”
“Something to do with my name. They think I’m family of Christopher Lee.”
“Christopher Lee?”
“The actor. The Dracula of the Hammer movies.”
“And, are you?”
“Well, Barack Obama and Dick Cheney were ninth cousins, once removed.”
“Barack Obama and Dick Cheney…they still are, Mr. Lee, if…if you speak the truth. But you, you still are a forth cousin of the chairman of the City Club, is it not, the veritable Mr. Hamblin Hamblin.”

“WHAT?”

“Don’t we play the fool, Mr. Lee. Is it not?”
“I have no idea. I know very little about my ancestors.”
“And why would that be so?”
“Because my ancestors wanted to know very little about theirs—in particular my father and mother don’t.”

“Fourth cousins, Mr. Lee.” He trains his sad eyes at his cell phone. “Not as significant perhaps as a veritable ninth-cousin connection, but then you are also of lesser veritability than the leaders of this great country of ours.”
“How do you know?” I ask.
“About your veritability?”
“About my ancestry.”

He taps a forefinger at his cell phone. “The algorithm,” he says, “the algorithm.”

He’s turning to the fish bowl again. Previously, a single fish turned its pointless rounds at a leisurely clip, but now there are four of them, and a sense of purpose has taken hold. Were it not for the bowl’s spherical shape, one would fear for the intervention of centrifugal forces, the fish misled by inertia and missing a turn.

“But that is not all, Mr. Lee.” He taps at his cell again. “The algorithm has also found a cousinly connection between Mr. Hamblin on the one hand, and Mr. Richard Roper, now deceased, on the other. The connection is complicated, admittedly, but the algorithm, when asked for a sonary confirmation of said kinship, replies with an unmistakable ‘beep’.” He proceeds to activate his device, swipes endlessly and until the iThing admits: “BEEP.”

“If you torture your phone some more,” I say (still on the upswing), “it’ll confess to a kinship between you and me.”

“Shall we try, Mr. Lee, shall we try?”


Hi, are you still there? Here's the link to the relevant Inkitt page again. Feel free to abuse the algorithm at your leisure (don't look for the familiar visual clues of Alex and the Green Eyes, they've changed the graphics, it's a naked male back against a blue background). 

Okay, a bit more on this algorithm thing. Inkitt argues that they have an "objective" measure for the quality of a particular text, namely the engagement of readers. And they have this ALGORITHM that detects this engagement. How? How did they validate their algorithm? What's the test set here, meaning the corpus of texts (a) presented to a representative group of readers who then engage more or less engagingly, and (b) the subset of texts which subsequently sells well. Go through the numbers, and estimate the time required to get to those numbers (years)---and you will arrive at the conclusion that this ALGORITHM is sheer deception, or self-deception, or fake.

2 comments:

Eirene said...

In other words, it's spam?

Michael Ampersant said...

No, not at all. No Spam. We're on Inkitt.