Les Perelman, a former director of undergraduate writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sits in his wife’s office and reads aloud from his latest essay.
“Privateness has not been and undoubtedly never will be lauded, precarious, and decent,” he reads. “Humankind will always subjugate privateness.”
Not exactly E.B. White. Then again, Mr. Perelman wrote the essay in less than one second, using the Basic Automatic B.S. Essay Language Generator, or Babel, a new piece of weaponry in his continuing war on automated essay-grading software.
The Babel generator, which Mr. Perelman built with a team of students from MIT and Harvard University, can generate essays from scratch using as many as three keywords.
For this essay, Mr. Perelman has entered only one keyword: “privacy.” With the click of a button, the program produced a string of bloated sentences that, though grammatically correct and structurally sound, have no coherent meaning. Not to humans, anyway. But Mr. Perelman is not trying to impress humans. He is trying to fool machines.