What can Machine Learning do for Literary Critics?

First in a series of posts about artificial intelligence sparked by “The Great AI Awakening,” an article from December 2016 by Gideon Lewis-Kraus in the New York Times Magazine. Cross-posted to Michael Ullyot‘s blog.

Can you trust machines to make decisions on your behalf? You’re doing it already, when you trust the results of a search engine or follow directions on your phone or read news on social media that confirms your worldview. It’s so natural that you forget it’s artificial; someone programmed a machine to make it happen. If Arthur C. Clarke is right (“any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”), we’re living in the age of magical thinking.

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Artful-Language Processing (ALP)

“For though the poet’s matter nature be,

His art doth give the fashion…

For a good poet’s made, as well as born”.1

In literary studies, we often critique an author’s writing – its stylistic traits, its influences, and its natural universality. When these qualities intertwine intricately, we tend to note it as exceptional. Why? Because it encapsulates the writer’s talent in writing nature and feelings with craft.

William Shakespeare has been noted as such a talent, at the expense of his contemporaries and rivals like Ben Jonson.

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