An AI-written science book

Apr 2013
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La La Land North
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I don't know why exactly, since I have been into computers from the time a simple one took about 5,000 square feet of floor space, but this scared the crap out of me.

At the start of the first chapter of a thick new academic tome about lithium-ion batteries, where information about the author would usually go, five words hint that something's different: "This book was machine-generated."

Why it matters: AI is helping to speed up science, unlock impossible problems and dig researchers out from under information overload. Automatic summarization is a big remaining challenge that, if solved, would accelerate discovery by focusing researchers on the most pressing problems in their fields.


What's happening: The book, which summarizes peer-reviewed research papers about lithium-ion batteries, is the first machine-written volume from Springer Nature — but the publishing giant says more are on the way.

The following 232 pages are a dry, technical read. But it's entirely intelligible — valuable, even, for a scientist trying to catch up to the vanguard of battery research.

Most work on AI writers has focused on fiction. It's not easy, as we've reported, to get a computer to generate good sentences and to fill them with actual facts.

Past nonfiction efforts — like several that have tried to create textbooks from Wikipedia articles or other sources — often stumble over readability issues.

Details: The machine-generated summary is made up of intelligible sentences, but it's anything but a pleasant read. It's pocked with citations — a result of the computer's inability to understand themes and concepts — and many sections are a paragraph long, built around just one research paper.

"The holy grail in this space is a system that can read multiple texts, understand the texts, integrate those texts, synthesize the ideas, and then turn that into generated language," says Kristian Hammond, a Northwestern professor and co-founder of Narrative Science, a language AI company.

"We're not even in the ballpark of that. We're nothing."
More details at A machine-generated book