To this writer, the concept of the AutoSummarize feature in Microsoft Office 97 is more than a little creepy. In a Hollywood movie, The AutoSummarizer would have to be a role for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
First, conjure a picture of yours truly spending an entire morning painstakingly snipping a 1600 word draft down to an allotted space of 1000 words. The idea that a piece of software could in seconds summarize a document to any pre-specified length intrudes on my domain as a self-editor. And subverting my inner processes is only the beginning. This inhuman weapon threatens to become a blunt scalpel in the hands of any brainless editor who decides my work needs cutting. Yet worst of all is the chimera it offers to my readers. In this age of information overload, a reader too busy to read the whole thing might just be tempted to get the gist by glancing at a five-sentence "AutoSummary" and discarding the rest.
If this is real, I might as well cut my wrists now.
But hey, I still believe that writing is an art that mere technology cannot simulate. As a writer I insist on the necessity, the inescapability, of slogging my way to the final draft--if only to prove that I am an artist. And readers who wish to derive any value from the process damn well better resign themselves to reading all of it. No machine can do the job. There is no free lunch. There is no mechanical reader. There is no mechanical writer.
Let's investigate. I propose a test. But where to begin? Well, if words must be condensed, let's select the speech of a politician. So I choose President Clinton's Inaugural Address at the start of his first term in January 1993. Let's run that through the AutoSummarizer, and see what comes out.
I go to the White House site on the Web, find the inaugural address, highlight the full 1600 word text, and paste it into a new Word document. Then I click on the AutoSummarizer from the Tool bar, choosing to extract a plentiful 2 percent of the original. An impressively short number of seconds later I get this: