The Birth of the Algorithmic Author: NLG Systems as Tools and Agents

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Natural language generation (NLG) – when computers produce text-based output in readable human languages – is becoming increasingly prevalent in our modern digital age. This paper will review the ways in which an NLG system may be framed in popular and scholarly discourse: namely, as a tool or as an agent. It will consider the implications of such perspectives for general perceptions of NLG systems and computer-generated texts. Negotiating claims made by system developers and the opinions of ordinary readers amassed through empirical studies conducted for this research, this paper delves into a theoretical and philosophical exploration of questions of authorial agency related to computer-generated texts, and by considering whether NLG systems constitute tools for manifesting human intention or agents in themselves.

This paper will begin by considering NLG systems as tools for manifesting human intent, the more commonly expressed view amongst developers and readers. An NLG system arguably serves as an extension of a human self (e.g. the developer or the user). Yet one cannot ignore the increasing autonomy of such systems. At what point does an extension of the self become a distinct entity altogether?

The discussion will then shift to considering NLG systems as agents in themselves. As evidenced by the results of studies conducted for this research, ordinary readers do tend to attribute authorship to computer-generated texts. However, these readers often attribute authorship to the system rather than its developers, indicating that – in some way – the system is distinct enough from its creators to warrant the title of author. Yet conventional modern understandings of the word ‘author’ suggest that authorship at least partly presumes intention- driven agency. Do NLG systems adhere to this expectation? Through reference to various theoretical perspectives, this paper will argue that some NLG systems may surpass the ‘tool’ title and more appropriately be deemed authorial agents. This type of agency, however, is not so characterised by the free-will intention of human writers, but by the intention to fulfil a designated objective that is respected within broader social contexts. When readers attribute authorship to the NLG system itself, that entity is permitted a place within the fluid social networks that humans populate. The NLG system becomes an algorithmic author.

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Jorge Sáez Jimé...