Review of ‘Literary Theory for Robots’ by Dennis Yi Tenen in book form.


The book “Literary Theory for Robots” by Dennis Yi Tenen explores the development of artificial intelligence and the implications of computers learning to write. Tenen draws connections between modern chatbots, pulp-fiction plot generators, old-fashioned dictionaries, and medieval prophecy wheels. He argues that there will always be an inherently human aspect to language and learning, regardless of the development of advanced AI. Despite the progress of machines in becoming stronger and smarter, humans still dictate what is meaningful.

Tenen, a former software engineer at Microsoft and now a professor, combines his diverse skillset to create an intriguing, humorous, and accessible book that raises essential questions about art, intelligence, technology, and the future of work. Through stories and historical examples, Tenen demystifies the ongoing debates over A.I. and highlights the collaborative effort involved in its development. He urges readers to be alert and critical in their understanding of A.I., cautions the overuse of metaphors attributing human cognitive aspects to artificial intelligence, and emphasizes the importance of lived experience in language and communication.

While the book acknowledges the threats that A.I. poses to certain forms of knowledge work, it also discusses the potential benefits of automation, such as increasing the supply of goods and allowing individuals to pursue more creative tasks. Tenen argues that human beings have agency and must accept the responsibility that comes with it, suggesting that the real danger lies in the failure to hold technology makers accountable for their actions. By encouraging critical thinking and challenging collective habits of thought, Tenen offers a unique perspective on artificial intelligence and its implications.

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