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Nice book, written by a computer!

A book on Lithium Batteries state of the art. The author? A computer. Image credit: Springer

Automation is progressing, widening its reach to fields we would have never considered as a target. Writing a book? No way, it takes a human, and a good one at that.

Yet, this is what just happened. Springer Nature has published a Machine Generated summary on the status of the art in the area of Lithium-Ion Batteries. In their own words:

“This is the first machine-generated scientific book in chemistry published by Springer Nature. Serving as an innovative prototype defining the current status of the technology, it also provides an overview about the latest trends of lithium-ion batteries research.

This book explores future ways of informing researchers and professionals. State-of-the-art computer algorithms were applied to: select relevant sources from Springer Nature publications, arrange these in a topical order, and provide succinct summaries of these articles. The result is a cross-corpora auto-summarization of current texts, organized by means of a similarity-based clustering routine in coherent chapters and sections.

This book summarizes more than 150 research articles published from 2016 to 2018 and provides an informative and concise overview of recent research into anode and cathode materials as well as further aspects such as separators, polymer electrolytes, thermal behavior and modelling.

With this prototype, Springer Nature has begun an innovative journey to explore the field of machine-generated content and to find answers to the manifold questions on this fascinating topic. Therefore it was intentionally decided not to manually polish or copy-edit any of the texts so as to highlight the current status and remaining boundaries of machine-generated content.

Our goal is to initiate a broad discussion, together with the research community and domain experts, about the future opportunities, challenges and limitations of this technology.”

You can download it and read it for free (seems that the author, Beta Writer, an algorithm built by the  Goethe University in Germany, did not asked for any royalties….).

I read the first two chapters and I should say I am impressed. I wouldn’t have known that it was not written by a human writer (actually I have some difficulties in acknowledging that it it the output of a machine -not even revised by a human editor).

Interesting also the motivation presented by Springer in trying an autonomous/automatic approach to writing technical books: in the area of lithium-ion batteries some 53,000 papers have been published just in the last three years. It is clearly beyond the capability of any single person to read them all. Having a computer (an algorithm) reading them and creating a sort of summary pinpointing the key emerging issue seems to be a must.

I can imagine than in few more years we will be offered services of technical books on demand, where you specify the topic and the specific angle you are interested in and voilà, your book is created.

Amazing, and a whole new perspective on the future of education and of knowledge access and sharing.  Also, a whole new set of issues on copyright, ownership (not to mention plagiarism…).

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.