Category Archives: Fiction

Storytelling Elements in EE Writing: Personification

My students give me at least as much homework as I give them.

In yesterday’s class, the elements of storytelling were doubted to be of importance in technical writing, or even academic engineering writing. So I’m looking for examples.

Here’s one, in the first article I brought up on my screen, an award-winning June 2000 article by Vítor H. Nascimento and Ali H. Sayed, “On the Learning Mechanisms of Adaptive Filters.”

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Notice the way that adaptive filters are personified in their introduction. They “adjust themselves to an ever-changing environment,” they have a “learning curve,” a “learning process,” and “learning capabilities.” An adaptive filter “reacts.” They are like humans or other species adapting to a habitat.

After seeming to personify adaptive filters, Nascimento and Sayed develop a nurturing relationship with them. The next paragraph of the introduction reads:

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Nurturing in their readers a warm feeling for adaptive filters, the authors say that “special care” must be taken with them (as with human children). “Interpreting learning curves” might be much more mathematical when it comes to adaptive filters, but these authors “care” for the slow and fast learners both, and, like a supportive and patient kindergarten teacher, they believe that slow learners end up “’smarter’” than they appear at first.

“The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson

This is feminist science fiction, among many other things, and I highly recommend it. Before the iPad, Neal Stephenson imagined the interactive book-like thing he calls A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. Apple sells the “Raise an Excellent Child Bundle” of apps , and so perhaps Stephenson’s not far off the mark. But instead of giving dietary advice to parents and suggesting mathematical video games for small children, Stephenson’s nanny-book is both artificially intelligent (adapting to the temperaments and experiences of its reader) and taps into real-time human actors’ voices and judgments. Made for one spoiled grand-daughter of a successful entrepreneur, and purloined for one rash daughter of a creative engineer, the books end up raising an abused and low-income girl and another million orphan girls—who together try to save the world from artificial intelligence that does not require human interface and being led by conscious human desire. At least I think that’s what happens! I’m reading it again soon, because it’s so interesting and also complex.