Tomorrow’s tech will insert reader into mind of book’s heroine

This post written by Mike Staton.

head shotIn 50 years a novel may not be a novel at all. Instead, it may become an interactive and immersive experience as envisioned by software developer Mike Matas. Reading will no longer involve processing chunks of text. Readers will not only read … they’ll also use an array of tools to explore the novel.

In classrooms in Duplin County and throughout rest of the U.S. teachers gather elementary age kids around them and read books aloud, books like Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. They’re trying to entice the kids to love reading books so that authors like me can continue to write and sell novels. But if we don’t have readers, we’re in a heap of trouble, right?

Well, it depends on what a typical reader will be like in 2064.

This is how folks thought they'd be reading in the future, according to a 1930s Popular Mechanics article.
This is how folks thought they’d be reading in the future, according to a 1930s Popular Mechanics article.

When today’s elementary-age kids become adults, they won’t suddenly become linear readers like their grandparents and great-grandparents before them. They’re digital kids, and they’ll bring with them their passion for Minecraft and for roll-playing computer games with the rich 3D graphics.

Back in 2011 twenty-something Matas demonstrated the first full-length interactive book for the iPad. The software included clever, swipeable video and graphics and some cool data visualizations. The book is Our Choice, Al Gore’s follow-up to his An Inconvenient Truth.

Hey, nothing like really being able to live in the novel you're reading.
Hey, nothing like really being able to live in the novel you’re reading.

Half a century from now the software for books will have advanced way beyond Matas’s initial interactive book.

A reader could be plugged into AI software that can read the reader’s thoughts. Instead of the reader looking at an e-reader or tablet and reading the words on the display, she’ll hear the AI narrate the novel, perhaps sounding like Clark Gable or Garrison Keillor. If the reader imagines herself as the heroine and chooses her own course of action, one different from how the author originally wrote the scene, the AI will show the reader a different virtual-reality plot thread as she chooses actions based on the plot-tree options the AI offers to her.

With the wind blowing through your eyes, you'll be able to put your book-glasses up to your face and jump into the adventure. Just don't get killed while in the book.
With the wind blowing through your eyes, you’ll be able to put your book-glasses up to your face and jump into the adventure. Just don’t get killed while in the book.

The reader could be wearing VR glasses, immersing her in the world of the novel, letting her see through the eyes of the heroine. Nowadays many women find erotic romance novels intoxicating. There’s a reason why the novel Fifty Shades of Gray is being made into a movie. Clad in body suits festooned with sensors, the granddaughters of today’s twenty-something women will truly feel the hero’s lips on their bodies.

Those action scenes in fantasy-genre novels like I write … imagine yourself as the heroine and suddenly the AI puts you in her mind … you and the hero are walking out of the tavern and are jumped by cutthroats eager to snip away your coin purse. You draw your dagger and jab toward the other woman’s belly. She jumps back. You’re in a fight where one of you will end up on the ground, blood soaking the cobblestones.

Come 2064, you may want to spend your idle time reading your VR book if you live along the coast and global warming is ruining your weekend.
Come 2064, you may want to spend your idle time reading your VR book if you live along the coast and global warming is ruining your weekend.

Authors in 2064 will write the basic novel and then let the AI software map out the infinite possibilities for plot threads based on the reader’s sometimes unpredictable decisions.

Old-timers – you know the ones who were in their twenties back in the second decade of the 21st century – can dispense with all the AI bells and whistles and just have the AI read the book to them or – holy of holies – actually read the words themselves. Remember? That’s what folks did for generation after generation after generation.

I wish I could be around in 2064 to read an immersive novel, but I’ll be 113 so that’s unlikely. But who knows … maybe a medical breakthrough or two will give me the opportunity to live a much longer life than I thought possible. As it is, my fraternal grandmother lived to be 99 and my dad turned 87 in April. I can hope, right?


20 thoughts on “Tomorrow’s tech will insert reader into mind of book’s heroine

  1. Mike, I love this blog. It was informative and like the Fantasy author you are, imaginative. I enjoyed the photos too. I have not found a good program to read to me while going down the road, except audio books of course. Thanks Cher’ley


    1. I like audiobooks too. When taking the long trips from North Carolina to West Virginia and Ohio, I’d often pass the hours listening to a fantasy genre audiobook. Have listened to a quite a few of late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels. They’re good for the trip up and the trip back — 800 page novels, perfect for CDs, not so good for the old-style audiotapes that were prevalent in the 1990s (lots and lots of them needed for giant books). I’ve often wondered why some publishing company doesn’t do a novel in audiobook like a radio-style drama. In first person POV, he/she would do the main character’s inner-thoughts and dialogue, and other actors would do other characters’ dialogue. It would be tricky, but fun to try to pull off.


    1. Speculating can be a fun way to spending an afternoon before the keyboard. And in my case, it was a nice way to put a -30- to my weekly newspaper reporter career.


  2. I like audiobooks too. When taking the long trips from North Carolina to West Virginia and Ohio, I’d often pass the hours listening to a fantasy genre audiobook.


  3. I can definitely believe your projections, but the one thing that bothers me is the idea that people won’t read any more. I wonder what that will do to our minds? Most people are visually oriented, a lot fewer good with audio learning. So will most of our info be pictures? That seems like a step backwards to me.
    Fun post.


    1. We’ll have to see how it all plays out in the decades ahead. Already, though, I see that many younger folks use abbreviations instead of the longer words when they make comments on Twitter, FB and when text messaging. They can’t be bothered to string together nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, etc., in expressive sentences, and sentences into paragraphs.


  4. Really interesting, Mike. It sounds both fantastical and not so hard to believe–reminds me a bit of Total Recall. I’m not sure if I’d want to experience a book like that or not. In a way, it appeals and in a way, I’d rather just stick with the good, old-fashioned experience of reading.


    1. I agree. Yet reading a novel is having a tale told you, and in a way and RPG game is a way of telling a tale with you as one of the character. Could novels an RPG’s end of meshing?


  5. I have to confess that I enjoy audio books in the car, but at home, I want to feel the book in my hands. I do read on the computer and kindle, but it does bother my eyes.
    As an actor, I would probably critique the AI for it performance. *Grin*



    1. In the 2060s, reviews will blast bad Al, laying the blame at the feet of the software engineer. My prediction, people late in the 21st century will go to hole-in-the-wall libraries and sit in chairs and actually enjoy those old-fashioned books from the 20th century.


  6. Boggles my mind, but reminds me of the bedtime story I made-up for my daughters and then told to my grandchildren about the horse who had no tail and visited a lot of other animals asking them to lend her a tail. I let the kids pick the animals they want the horse to visit and I make up the dialect for them. Then I use their name at the end to help resolve the horse’s problem. They love participating and directing the story that way, and I’m sure adults would love experiencing the story like you describe. I think it might be a bit scary, but I’m pretty conservative in the daring department. Very interesting blog!


  7. I agree that this may be the way things are going but I have three issues. First, is an author truly an author at this point if the reader can truly redirect the action or change an outcome. The one thing about being an author today is that we create the entirety of the story. Second, people fall in love with characters and stories that are fully formed. Would we lose that love of a story if it varies from person to person. Finally, each of us have our own image of the hero or heroine of a story, even if it’s been made into a movie. For me, letting my imagination fill in the blanks would feel more satisfying than having an AI tech make those decisions for me. But I guess I’m old fashioned that way. 🙂


  8. I listened to a webinar last night on Book Apps, and how they impact children’s books, and the discussion also took in the topic of how to make a children’s book app. Some of your muse here, Mike, weaves into that discussion and webinar: the video, graphics, and alternate endings, for example. It seems we’re moving in the direction of interactive “books”, and it’s something I’ll be looking into for my future works. Thanks for a great — and timely — blog post!


  9. This is a very interesting post Mike. I have never given any thought to the “Al” method of reading. I, too, would love to be around to see it and how it affects the readers of the world. I love audio books, in the car, when I’m sewing, and on my iPod, but the thought of this type of interactive reading boggles the mind. Sounds like so much fun though! Thanks for opening our eyes to the future!


    1. I guess tomorrow’s Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will develop the technology that kids today just 5 years will use when their 45 year old adults. If I’m around to see it, I’ll be over 100.


  10. It’s and exciting, yet scary, concept. I also think the loss of actual reading will limit the amount of authors as time progresses.


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