November 14, 2018

Can a robot write poetry?

Can a robot write poetry? That is the question posed in the headline of an article on IrishTimes.com. The first reaction of most poets would probably be a quick No. 

The article is really about technology, but my own answer is that artificial intelligence can write poetry. One reason I believe that is because it is so hard at times for us to say that a poem is a Poem. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has had trouble with pathos, empathy and humor. It is great at learned tasks but creativity without human input has been more difficult to achieve.

Computer scientists (in this example, at Microsoft Research Asia) are working on designing AI that can be creative. You have probably seen or heard of examples of AI writing music or creating images. This new experiment attempts to have AI write poetry using images as a "writing prompt."

You look at an ocean wave, a painting, a foggy sunrise and you are inspired to write. Are all your resulting poems great?  

Up to this point, AI auto-generation of text has been getting better. Computers/robots/AI (choose your term) can write sports articles based on stats about a game and some rules about the descriptive language used in sports reporting. An algorithm to be poetic is a ot harder to create.

These researchers trained their AI with 8,000 images. When is "looked at" this bare winter trees country scene, 


it wrote this haiku-like (after all, it is Microsoft Asia) poem:

Sun is shining
The wind moves
naked trees
You dance

Is it a poem?  If one of the elementary students I work with in a workshop gave it to me, I would take it as a poem. I think I'd accept it as a short form poem from almost anyone, in fact.  

Is it a good poem? That is always harder to answer.


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