Robot writes engineer’s obituary and it’s as good as any human’s tribute

While a fake obituary ‘written by a robot’ has been circulating social media for some years it turns out that the real thing is so impressive you wouldn’t spot it from one written by a human

Marvin Minsky received an obituary written by ingenious technology
Marvin Minsky received an obituary written by ingenious technology

It turns out that robots can write obituaries.

But the question is, are they any good?

One obituary that was allegedly written by artificial intelligence has been making its way across social media for a couple of years now, gathering lots of attention.

We are talking about the obituary for the fictional ‘Brenda Tent’.

If you haven’t come across the tribute, it is a convincing piece of work that you can imagine being computer generated.

It includes lines like: “A librarian from birth, Brenda was an avid collector of dust” and “In lieu of flowers, send Brenda more life”.

But alas, this was a joke.

Due to its ever so slightly humorous nature, it came as no surprise when it was revealed that the passage was not truly written by a robot, but rather by comedian Keaton Patti, who has been creating similar works for years.

Social media users were generally a little disappointed upon discovering this but that hasn’t stopped it from re-circulating years later.

Sadly, there was no Brenda and the wording is actually an except from Patti’s 2020 book ‘I forced a bot to write this book’.

But robots writing an obituary isn’t a thing of science fiction.

One example was when Wired instructed a robot to write an obituary for AI Pioneer Marvin Minsky, something that it appeared the robot did a rather impressive job with.

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When Minsky died in 2016, one of his virtual descendants – Wordsmith, the automated news-writing bot from the company Automated Insights, stepped up to the occasion.

Wordsmith takes structured data and places it into templates of increasing complexity.

Using such technology seemed like a fitting tribute because Minsky was particularly interested in the differences and similarities between human and machine cognition.

Arguably, the layout of a traditional obituary is rather structured. While it is designed to be tailored to fit the individual that it’s paying homage to, there is also a checklist of facts and information that needs to be included.

Speaking to Wired, James Kotecki, head of communications at Automated Insights commented on the role of Wordsmith, he said: “The point would not be to replace a touching human obituary, but it might be a situation where you wanted to be the first media company out when someone notable dies.

“You could have an automated version come out quickly and have human writers write details around it.”

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So, what does the obituary of Minsky read like? Here it is in all of it’s glory:

“Marvin Lee Minsky, 88, passed away January 24, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts of cerebral haemorrhaging.

“Born August 9, 1927 in New York City, New York, to parents Fannie Reiser and Henry Minsky, Marvin Minsky was known for his pioneer contribution to the field of artificial intelligence (AI). After graduating from Phillips Academy, Minsky attended Harvard University, graduating with a BA in Mathematics in 1950.

“He continued his education at Princeton University, ultimately graduating with a a PhD in Mathematics in 1954.

“Some of Minsky’s greatest accomplishments include founding the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1959 and authoring many groundbreaking books in the field of artificial intelligence, including Perceptrons. He won many notable awards in his field of study, including the Turing Award in 1969.

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“Minsky is survived by his wife Gloria Minsky; three children, Margaret Minsky, Julie Minsky, and Henry Minsky.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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