Creator Of Uncanny ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Text Generator Doesn’t See Robots Taking Writers’ Jobs

Amid the Fifty Shades of Grey movie hooplah maybe you’ve found yourself grumbling, “I could’ve written that book.” Sure, maybe, but it’s not just you — there’s a text generator out there right now that does a pretty damn near perfect impersonation of the series. Wait — robots are doing literature (and I use that term lightly) now? ARE WE ALL DOOMED? We chatted with the programmer behind the new Fifty Shades of Grey text generator tool to find out.

Consumerist had a chat with Lisa Wray, the programmer behind the Fifty Shades of Grey text generator tool and bona fide Internet hit to find out if it’s just burgeoning lust that can be so easily replicated, or if computers could some day learn to write how we do and churn out tomes upon tomes of artificially intelligent content. You know, in their robot quest to take over humankind, starting with naughty Twilight fan fiction.

Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?
Lisa Wray: Absolutely. I wanted to see what the phenomenon was about. But after three straight days of staring at them making the generator, they might as well be tax returns.

How would you explain your process of programming this to someone who knows absolutely nothing about programming? And when did you start the project?
LW: The project started last Saturday over some wine. We were having the familiar conversation about bestsellers: “Ugh, I could write that.” “*I* could write that.” Not to be outdone, I said, “I bet I could program a computer to write that.”

As soon as I said it, I felt like I had discovered the punch line of the best joke ever. I started Sunday morning, went nonstop for the next two evenings, and published it on Wednesday.

First, I started with the complete text. I did frequency analysis to find adjectives, adverbs, etc., and phrases. (There are a surprising amount of repeated phrases, most notably “His tongue invades my mouth.” A lot of commenters have taken offense to that phrase, but it’s so real, no one believes it.)

Next, I transcribed some sentences into grammatical “rules,” adding variation as I went. Finally, I ran them through an engine for recursive grammar … and started crying laughing. Finishing the code was a lot of trial and error.

Can the computer do any other basic plots — Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet, etc., or is there something particularly unique about Fifty Shades that lends itself to this sort of program?
LW: Well, Fifty Shades is especially good for the reasons it seems to be loathed: like most romance, it’s predictable and repetitive, especially the love scenes, and it has a lot of literary quirks that convey authenticity. For example, Ana’s tendency to say “Holy shit!” and “Jeez,” Christian’s grey eyes, and Ana’s “inner goddess.”

You could definitely portray another small scene like this — say Cinderella with her sisters — but nothing larger. The reason my code is able to generate fairly believable text is that it’s so limited in scope. I was able to hand-tune the adjectives and phrases until it felt just right. That’s not possible at scale. Those bigger questions are what *real* academics study. So I’m told.

How could this kind of program be applied to other situations outside BDSM erotica?
LW: To be fair, you could easily write chaste love scenes. You could write any kind of fairly abstract literature: documentation, religious pamphlets, academic papers. I wouldn’t recommend using this method to write an essay, however, because it will take you much longer than just writing the essay.

What’s the response been like?
LW: Really positive. This whole project was motivated by the desire to see my joke fulfilled, so it’s gratifying to see that other people get my sense of humor. I’ve also had a lot of experts in linguistics and natural language processing reach out to me.

My editor wants to know if the computer needs an editor…?
LW: I could have used her a couple days ago!

Could you see this kind of thing replacing literature entirely? Should we be afraid of robot writers taking our jobs?
LW: No. Did you see the kind of stuff I made? Can you?
[editor’s note: Touché!]

Speaking of which, do you believe in artificial intelligence like Elon Musk? That guy is preparing to take on the robots.
LW: No comment.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.