Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Write Like Isaac Asimov!

"I Write Like" is an online tool that helps you find your inner author. The website "I Write Like" ( has erupted online and scores of writers are tempted to go and check it online to see just who they write like. I Write Like is both entertainment and education. I have read Charles Dickens a lot in my life and he may have influenced a writing style subconsciously. So I was determined to find who I write like. The way the site works is simple. You go to the website and cut-and-paste your writings and press "analyze" button. And the website, without any explanations, tells you, that you write like ABC or XYZ. I pasted one of my older blog articles and the analysis had it that I write like "Arthur C Clarke". Hmm.. I thought I wrote some serious thought provoking proses and not science fiction! So I submitted a few of my other paragraphs from other older articles. The analysis indicated that I wrote, at times, like Isaac Asimov, at other times like Dan Brown and still at other times like Stephen King!

Who does not like to be an Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Dan Brown all in one ! I would not mind a bit ;-) But then being the curious one, I started looking for pattern and it was obvious, not for once, the IWL analysis ever said I wrote like a famous English literateur. I was never quite close to Charles Dickens for sure, never close to Ernest Hemingway, not D H Lawrence, not Forsyth, not even Robin Cook. The pattern started emering. All of my blog articles are related to articles on technology and science and may be that is why names like Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov sprang. Just to test this notion, I pasted a paragraph from a letter I had written to my parents some time back (not about technology and science) and lo and behold. It said I wrote like Charles Dickens!

So much about entertainment. Surely the concept is catchy and provides interesting insights for any one curious enough. Equally surely, it can not be an exact science, and it is not. But simply the idea of an algorithm that can provide traces of influence in writing has proven wildly popular.

Who is behind IWL? Though the site might seem the idle dalliance of an English professor on summer break, it was created by Dmitry Chestnykh, a 27-year-old Russian software programmer currently living in Montenegro. Though he speaks English reasonably well, it's his second language. In his own words, Dmitry wanted it to be educational. Chestnykh modeled the site on software for e-mail spam filters. This means that the site's text analysis is largely keyword based. Even if you write in short, declarative, Hemingwayesque sentences, its your word choice that may determine your comparison. Most writers will tell you, though, that the most telling signs of influence come from punctuation, rhythm and structure. I Write Like does account for some elements of style by things such as number of words per sentence.

Chestnykh says “Actually, the algorithm is not a rocket science, and you can find it on every computer today. It’s a Bayesian classifier, which is widely used to fight spam on the Internet. Take for example the “Mark as spam” button in Gmail or Outlook. When you receive a message that you think is spam, you click this button, and the internal database gets trained to recognize future messages similar to this one as spam. This is basically how “I Write Like” works on my side: I feed it with “Frankenstein” and tell it, “This is Mary Shelley. Recognize works similar to this as Mary Shelley.” Of course, the algorithm is slightly different from the one used to detect spam, because it takes into account more stylistic features of the text, such as the number of words in sentences, the number of commas, semicolons, and whether the sentence is a direct speech or a quotation.”

Chestnykh has uploaded works by about 50 authors — three books for each, he said. That, too, explains some of its shortcomings. Melville, for example, isn't in the system. But Chestnykh never expected the sudden success of the site and he plans to improve its accuracy by including more books and adding a probability percentage for each result. He hopes it can eventually be profitable.

Whatever the deficiencies of I Write Like, it does exude a love of writing and its many techniques. The site's blog updates with inspiring quotations from writers, and Chestnykh — whose company, Coding Robots, is also working on blog editing and diary writing software — shows a love of literature. He counts Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Agatha Christie among his favorites.

Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of IWL, it is sure that the algorithm does work and work well for almost any writing you submit. It analyzes with a certain probability and brackets you the author with someone well known. It is expected that each article we write has a different style and probably what is really required is another meta-level algorithm that can take various articles from an author and rather than saying that one writes like Arthur C Clarke, other like Isaac Asimov and Dan Brown, it should say your set of articles have a writing style like Isaac Asimov (I would like to hear it that way ;-)

Be that as it may, the educational value is there. This is by far the best known example of Bayesian classification I have heard and another point in the case for making teachings of quantitative methods in probability and statistics more interesting than it is !


  1. My first reaction was to analyze one of my writings...amazingly I got the response, Margaret Mitchell, the link to MM takes me to her famous book "Gone With The Wind"...though this movie is one of my personal favorite, I never knew it was from MM...did the movie impacted my style of writing...guess I will try few far this much is interesting...

    The text I used to analyze was written by me in response to a news article in India' (pasted below)::

    1. First, army men are also human beings so yes an incident like this could have happened but that does not mean blame the whole army.
    2. Secondly, if a civilian a local from her hometown would have done that the same girl might have not made the brouhaha as much as she did in this case.
    3. Indeed if the army guys did something wrong it must be inquired and appropriate action taken against the culprits.

    But beyond all these initial reactions and news perpetrated by the media let me share something which is important, the fear and respect of military for all the sacrifices which the soldiers make far from their homes is not there in India. Rather soldiers are being treated with contempt and lack of respect in India. Let me ask this same girl, would she have the courage to do this if it was a local policeman, (I am not protecting the army men) the point this girl also did such a thing because she knew these soldiers are not from her state.

    Day in and day out the soldiers struggle far from home and they serve the country but look around and one can witness, are these living martyrs being offered consolation, does the society offer some healthy support to these soldiers, none. Does the press even write about the good deeds done by these soldiers in that town. NONE. But one such incident which none of us know the real reason as yet and the press goes chatting all over. Eulogizing the actions of girl is also good. But, she has no right to pelt stones at soldiers in dress. And I noticed hundreds of locals standing and deriving sadistic pleasure from the show going on in front of their eyes. Its a shame. Rather than guiding the girl to behave sensibly the crowd was cheering and applauding, such are the drama hungry people in our country who just love to be bystanders and they have no real value addition in such incidents except for provoking. Thankfully, for two sane people who came and interfered, had it not been them some miscreant in the drama hungry crowds could have hurled some more stones and the crowds could have turned unruly and it would not have been such ending.

    The lesson which the press, society and people in India need to learn is how to handle such kind of issues with more humane way. The soldier had two other colleagues and she could have raised the matter with them. Taken it thru' right authorities.

    In any case, while I am not defending the soldiers, I must also mention the soldiers in India don't get their due respect. And the Indian public seems to have forgotten to acknowledge these walking martyrs who die everyday being far away from their families and loved ones. None seem to care the emotional cost of their loneliness and such incidents only push these soldiers further into isolation leaving them alone to live thru' their anguishes.

  2. I am hooked to this second writing showed...I write like William Gibson...gonna try more.

  3. I write like Vladimir Nabokov. Even though I have never read any of his books..