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I read this book for a college course about eight years ago. I think it was released before that, though.

The main character is working with someone else who has accepted a bet that they can't produce an AI that can write a better essay than a graduate student (I believe on literary analysis/criticism). The main character is the one who trains the neural network, slowly getting it to understand words and hold a conversation, until at some point it seems to become sentient.

When the time is up, the main character's lover is chosen as the competing graduate student - but instead of producing an essay, the AI prints out essentially a suicide note and erases itself from the computer system. Most others seemed to think this was a trick - I think only the main character believed the AI was actually intelligent.

I think it's set in the 80s or 90s - the AI's program is running on the college's mainframes. The AI's development is also interspersed with flashbacks and vignettes of the main character's personal life.

It seems impossible to Google this - the results are clogged with real "AI" like GPT-3 writing real "literature", and speculative articles about the future of that technology.

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  • Are you looking for a book or a recent journal article? :) – user65648 Nov 6 '20 at 21:12
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    Some of those search results might have led to journal articles. :D GPT-3 almost singlehandedly killed my ability to Google for this book. I even tried to figure out a way to back-reference from TV Tropes or use the Google "Shopping" tab... – Nathan Nov 6 '20 at 21:36
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This could be "Galatea 2.2", a novel by Richard Powers published in 1995. Firmly based on the legend of Pygmalion, it concerns a character (also called Richard Powers) appointed as Writer in Residence at a US university after ending a passionate love affair with a woman, and finding himself unable to write any more. He is challenged by an AI researcher named Philip Lentz to develop a computer program capable of displaying reading comprehension enough to surpass the average human graduate student on the English Department's Master's Comprehensive Exam.

He calls the program "Helen", and trains it by reading it stories, telling it the story of his life, and eventually develops a relationship with it. According to wikipedia:

The novel culminates with Helen being unable to bear the realities of the world, and "leaving" Powers. She asks Powers to "see everything" for her, and subsequently shuts herself down. Her exit from the world forces Powers to experience a rebirth. In addition, Powers realizes that he was Lentz's experiment: would he or wouldn't he be able to teach a computer? Through the transformation he experiences, he is suddenly able to interact with the world, and he can write again.

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  • This is absolutely it - thank you! – Nathan Nov 9 '20 at 18:47

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