Home > Website archive > Public events > Events > 2010 > How Would a Robot Read a Novel?

How Would a Robot Read a Novel?

LSE Literary Festival launch event, with the Methodology Institute

Date: Thursday 11 February 2010
Time:  7-8.30pm
Venue:  Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building
Speakers: Dr Kavita Abraham, Dr Jon Adams, Dr Robert Hudson
Chair: Dr Tom Chatfield

Update, Tuesday 9 February: Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances Mark Lawson is no longer able to participate in this event. We are delighted to welcome Dr Tom Chatfield to take the chair. 

Don't judge a book by its cover? Don't be ridiculous. We constantly make judgements on books – from where it appears in a shop, its pretty cover, its heft or subject matter, the praise and criticism we hear about it. Reviewers are even more prejudiced. They know the author, or hate the publisher or, even worse, are a meticulous and lucid expert on the subject. All human readings are subjective. Is there another way? Would an objective reading - some preconceptionless robotic analysis, for instance - be preferable? Is it even possible? And what questions might a robot help us answer?

Researchers at LSE Methodology Institute used the text mining programme Alceste to analyse Robert Hudson's novel The Kilburn Social Club, and then invited Hudson to look at the results. What did the robot teach the writer about his own work? What answer could it provide to the question, 'what's the book about?' Might such analyses provide points of contact – be they meetings or clashings of minds – between social science interpretations of texts and the world of literary criticism? In the gap between the robot's reading and our own, might we learn something substantive about how novels differ from other types of writing?

Dr Kavita Abraham is an expert in qualitative research methodologies. Dr Jon Adams is a critic of literary criticism. Dr Robert Hudson is an academic historian-turned novelist, and author of The Kilburn Social Club. Dr Tom Chatfield is arts and books editor at Prospect. He writes on arts, philosophy, media and technology, and is the author of ‘Fun Inc.’

This event is the launch of the LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival 2010, and will be followed by a drinks reception.


A copy of the PowerPoint presentation for this event is now available online.
Download: How would a robot read a novel? (pdf)


A podcast of this event is available to download from the LSE Public Lectures and Events: podcasts and videos channel.

Twitter and Facebook

You can get immediate notification on the availability of an event podcast by following LSE public lectures and events on Twitter, which will also inform you about the posting of transcripts and videos, the announcement of new events and other important event updates. Event updates and other information about what's happening at LSE can be found on the LSE's Facebook page.


If you are planning to attend this event and would like details on how to get here and what time to arrive, as well as on accessibility and special requirements, please refer to LSE Events FAQ.  LSE aims to ensure that people have equal access to these public events, but please contact the events organiser as far as possible in advance if you have any access requirements so that arrangements, where possible, can be made. If the event is ticketed, please ensure you get in touch in advance of the ticket release date. Access Guides to all our venues can be viewed online.

LSE Literary Festival 2010
Literary Festival 2010