THE BLOG

Does Your Computer Have a Voice?

03/25/2015 01:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2015
Digital Vision. via Getty Images

Don't get me wrong; I'm all in favor of technology. It can't be stopped. Better to embrace the best of what it has to offer -- such as being able to see loved ones from across the globe. (By the way, that was my favorite futuristic exhibit at the 1964 World's Fair.) Or sending text messages when you don't have time or the desire for a lengthy phone conversation. Or playing Scrabble with online friends.

On the other hand, many facets of technology threaten mankind's basic needs. Conversation, meditation, introspection, landscapation (the act of watching the landscape out a car window) may be nearing extinction. And because of this danger, I often long for "back then."

But what I experienced the other day while helping my granddaughter with her homework left me a state of wonder, with a great concern for our future.

She was required to write an essay for her seventh grade Language Arts class. It was a whimsical topic, The Animal Winter Olympics. She began writing, creating funny names and events, but eventually asked for my help. Of course, I was eager to give it to her.

We brainstormed, creating an Olympic village populated with strong athletes determined to win their events. I typed while she dictated.

When I started a new paragraph, she grabbed my arm and shouted. "No, Grandma. You can't do that yet. We need seven sentences in the paragraph."

"What? Really? That's stifling creativity," I said.

"Well, this is 7th grade." She gave me that middle school sigh. The one that declares I'm a grown up now, but not all the time. "And in Language Arts that's what we have to do. And then we need a conclusion, but we can't use those exact words."

Ah yes, how well I remember the components of a good essay. The introduction, with that all important thesis statement. The body in which all the main points are covered. And the conclusion, wrapping it all up so it makes sense. I also remember how much I hated being boxed into a formula. But like me, my granddaughter wanted a good grade.

She finished her essay. I proofed it for her. And then she hit "submit." At this point, I figured we were done for the night. Tomorrow, she would get the grade from her teacher.

But no.

Right then, the computer started calculating. "What's happening?" I asked.

"We're getting graded," she explained.

"Right now?" My heart chugged in my throat as the seconds ticked by. I covered my eyes with my hands and peeked through my fingers at the little ball circling on the screen.

There I sat, a published author, waiting for a computer to grade an essay I had helped write. What if my granddaughter got a low score? In her words, I was OMGing and thought I was headed for a heart attack.

Ding.

"Yes!" My granddaughter shouted. "5.4 out of 6."

My granddaughter was elated! I was baffled. How could a computer actually grade a creative endeavor? Sure, she had followed the formula. She had almost perfect grammar. Five paragraphs. Introduction. Body. Conclusion. But what about the actual essay itself? Her thoughts and opinions? Her creativity?

It appears that, too, was graded. It actually gave her 5.5 on voice. That elusive quality editors and agents search for, but can never fully explain.

She assured me the teacher would see her score, but would she read the essay? And where is this computerized program taking the writers of tomorrow? Will they simply type in a main character's hair color, her desire to find her father, fall in love, open a vegan café and voila, out spews a novel?

I know we can't stop technology. But until robots rule the world, I pray creativity is never left up to a computer.