Will Writing and Reading of Books be Replaced by AI-Technology?

Posted by ge-sehen on 22. March 2024 in Essay

OpenAI + Gutenberg     Credit:sciencewriter.org 


Swedish Education Minister Lotta Edholm intends to put the brakes on the national digitization strategy. The government wants to make the equivalent of sixty million euros available for school-books this year, with similar amounts planned for the coming years. According to Edholm, reading is best promoted through books and Swedish schools have a big problem  with too many screens and too few books. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have investigated the situation in more detail. Torkel Klingberg, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, explains: “Depending on how intensively schools use computers impacts math and reading skills. The more a school organizes its teaching based on access to the internet and computers, the worse the children’s performance will be.”

The Changing Culture of Communication

Long before writing became an option, people communicated based on what is referred to as an oral culture. Humans are born with a natural capacity for language while most other species have little capacity for anything beyond a few basic signals of sound. Language allowed humans to exchange thoughts, to organize experiences and to  plan for future activities. Studies comparing human and primate language abilities using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) have shown that the human brain has special segments devoted to language. In other words, we are ‘pre-wired’ to talk and listen. However, unlike language, reading and writing must be learned as it is not pre-wired in the human brain. Until the printing revolution in the 1450s, most reading and writing took place among a very select elite in scholarly, religious or government institutions. Writing allowed humans to conserve their intellectual resources, to save what needed to be saved without having to keep all the details in their heads and devote their major energies for the advancement of knowledge. With writing, the nature of knowledge changed dramatically and realigned human consciousness. As humans moved from a sound-based to a vision-based culture, their ways of thought and expression changed. The development of writing with its use of a codifiable visual medium like paper, created a human culture which was different from the earlier oral cultures. Meaning was now conveyed by carefully placed and chosen words thereby eliminating the need for reliance on memory. In addition, writing also encouraged the advancement of abstract and analytic thought.

Johannes Gutenberg’s Printing Press and the Democratization of Knowledge

Gutenberg’s printing press, developed between 1436 and 1450, introduced several key innovations to print books that were efficient and economical to produce. It marked a dramatic improvement on earlier printing methods in which cloth, paper or other media was brushed or rubbed repeatedly to achieve the transfer of ink. Typically used for texts, the invention and global spread of the printing press was one of the most influential events in the second millennium. By 1500, printing presses operating throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million books. The printing revolution marked the turning point in the transformation of a backward medieval region into modern Europe. The sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class. Publishing houses were created to produce, control and distribute knowledge from a central location. Publishers became the new authority in justifying which knowledge was to become part of the shared global knowledge and which was not. The convergence of improved paper mill technology with the availability of cheap paper together with the steam-driven trains that transported daily newspapers and books across the country, resulted in a fundamental democratization of text-based knowledge. At the same time letter writing became the most important means of person-to-person communication. The first United States Post Office was created in 1775 and Benjamin Franklin was assigned to be the first Postmaster General. By 1828, the United States had 7’800 post offices which made it the largest postal system in the world, delivering mail reliably and on schedule.

Comparing digital with printed books

Digital books offer many advantages. They are typically more affordable than physical books, and they can be easily downloaded and stored on a variety of devices. E-readers are portable and lightweight, making them ideal for reading on the go. In addition, digital books offer several features that physical books do not. For example, e-readers support a reader’s desire to adjust the font size and brightness. In addition, they provide access to dictionaries and other reference materials as well as the ability to read in the dark. However, despite the benefits of technology, there are still many people who prefer to read physical books. Some readers find that the tactile experience of holding a book and turning the pages is more enjoyable. Digital books can be deleted or corrupted while physical books  are more durable as they can last for many years with proper care. Hence, it is unlikely that AI-technology will replace books in the foreseeable future. Content will be available in book form and digitally via E-readers and it is the user’s choice which medium to use to best meet his specific interests and activities.

Different Writing Styles

The five main types of writing are expository, persuasive, narrative, descriptive and creative. Each one serves a different purpose and employs different techniques. Knowing how and when to use the appropriate style will help to better engage one’s own readers. The writing choices an author makes tend to follow patterns. When a writer finds a technique or habit he likes, he sticks with it, typically throughout his entire career. Considering the different writing choices that are available to him, his writing is likely to take on a unique ‘voice’ that ‘sounds’ different from other writings. For example, consider the difference between these three phrases:

  • Getting let go
  • Getting fired
  • Getting canned

Each refers to the same thing – the termination of employment – but they each have their own special connotation. “Getting let go” is often a euphemism for termination, used to politely protect someone’s feelings. “Getting fired” is the standard but comes  across as an  insensitive act. “Getting canned” is more colloquial, best used in a joking or casual setting.

In addition, the lengths of sentences may define the intensity of the content provided. Some writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, are known for their quick, to-the-point sentences which create a fast-paced and urgent writing style. Other writers, namely Charles Dickens, favour long, descriptive sentences, which create a vivid and immersive writing style. Moreover, punctuation can be used to impact the pacing of reading. Commas, periods, colons and other punctuation marks all denote pauses in reading the text, building suspense or encouraging reflection to engage a reader’s interest  to continue reading.

Transformers, ChatGPT and the Meaning of language

Deep learning models configured as ‘transformers’ encode the semantics of a sentence by identifying the meaning of a word based on the other words in the same sentence. Following this logic, the model uses similar sentences to perform the task requested by a user, for example, ‘translate a sentence’ or ‘summarize a paragraph.’ Due to their inherent capacity to correlate the entire internet content, transformer-based models like GPT-4 are radically changing how AI systems will be built. With transformer technology, new applications will emerge, way beyond their current capacity to process text. The recently announced ChatGPT excels at detecting context, which makes its natural language processing (NLP) ability uncannily good. However, there are also critical issues to be considered. Transformers lack the ability to deal with empathy, critical thinking and ethics. Their response is based on documented ‘knowledge’. However, ‘meaning’ and ‘knowledge’ are two different things. For example, changing the sequence of words in an Essay may change the context of the issues discussed. While knowledge is important, the author’s creative capacity to define a plot driven by individuals and scenarios of action cannot be duplicated by AI-machines, at least not for the next five to ten years.


The future of books is likely to be hybrid, as physical and electronic books are offered by publishers in parallel. Technology will offer new and convenient ways to read, but physical books will continue to be popular among many readers. Hence, it is the individual’s preferences when to read a book and when to consume content in digital form. It seems unlikely, however, that writing and reading physical books will be replaced by AI-technology anytime soon.

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