An AI-Authored Scholarly Book

Earlier this year Springer Nature published an open access book written by AI: Lithium-Ion Batteries: A Machine-Generated Summary of Current Research. The author is identified as “Beta Writer”.

Beta Writer algorithmically categorized and summarized more than 150 key research publications selected from over 1,000 published from 2016 to 2018. I’m no expert on lithium-ion batteries so others will have to weigh in on whether this is a credible book . However, a book that synthesizes and summarizes a large and complex corpus of current research literature is a valuable contribution.

The process of the book, a combination of various “off the shelf” natural language processing (NLP) tools, preprocesses the documents to address various linguistic and semantic normalizations, clusters documents by content similarity (i.e. chapters and sections of the book), generates abstracts, summaries, introductions, and conclusions, and outputs XML as a final manuscript. And it does so in a manner that is sensitive to copyright infringements. The details are outlined in a human written Preface (Henning Schoenenberger, Christian Chiarcos, and Niko Schenk) and provide an interesting comparison to current cataloguing and metadata processes and theories.

Book Production Workflow

In an interview published in The Scholarly Kitchen, Schoenenberger was clear that the intent is “to initiate a public debate on the opportunities, implications and potential risks of machine-generated content in scholarly publishing.” This book is far from perfect and Springer acknowledges that. Commendably, Springer has gone to great lengths to document their process, discuss alternative strategies, identify weaknesses and outright failures, and to encourage critical commentary.

We foresee that in future there will be a wide range of options to create content – from entirely human-created content, a variety of blended man-machine text generation to entirely machine-generated text.

Henning Schoenenberger, Director Product Data & Metadata Management at Springer Nature

Future projects will have an “emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach, acknowledging how difficult it often is to keep an overview across the disciplines.” This is intriguing given the importance of interdisciplinarity and the challenges of tracking concepts in new, unfamiliar fields.

Reviewers of the book argue that it’s not actually a book because it lacks a narrative, a integrating storyline. Agreed. But frankly our definition of “a book” has always been, and remains, fairly elastic. So, it’s a book; just a different book. And it’s a very interesting book at that.