I Got An AI To Autocomplete Famous Novels

I fed in the first lines, then hit “autocomplete”. Hilarity ensued

Clive Thompson
10 min readApr 29, 2022


Closeup of middle keys on an old typewriter, slightly bent out of shape
“typewriter”, by Ak~i

Autocompleting AI is on a roll.

It’s now sufficiently good enough that plenty of folks are using it in daily business. About 85% of content marketers are using it to crank out online material; students are using it to write essays. There’s a “Dead Internet” conspiracy theory that claims all online material is just AI bots talking to other bots; we seem to be creeping towards that territory, yes?

Personally, I’m morbidly fascinated by our massive global Turing-Test moment! Though I’m fascinated less for what it says about the awesomeness of AI than what it says about the mediocrity of us humans.

For years, people assumed the Turing Test — a bot writing so convincingly that we think it’s human — is difficult to pass. But it’s not! It’s incredibly easy for an AI to appear human-like in written prose, because we humans don’t set the bar terribly high, lol.

Consider much of the prose generated in the corporate world. Employees are often wildly overworked and underpaid, so when they have to write memos or reports or blog posts, they’re … not sweating the details. They’re not drafting and redrafting. No, they’re cranking out that stuff at typing speed, just to get the damn task done. (Many college and high-school papers are written the same way.)

The same goes for much everyday email. It’s written by the tonnage. The reason why we accept so many of Gmail’s clichéd autosuggestions is that we were probably going to type those clichés ourselves. BTW, I say “clichéd” not derogatorily but descriptively: With everyday utterances, it’s just a fact that we often write the same mundane things over and over. Zipf’s law extends from individual words to entire utterances, as some of the earliest chatbot creators realized.

I’m not defending our lack of art in everyday communications. Maybe we should be working harder at it, bringing more aesthetic joy into the world! But as a matter of sheer factual reality, right now we aren’t.

So it’s no surprise AI is useful in industries where humans already deploy text from a firehose.

So, what about novels?



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net