From the transcending works of Homer through to the legendary Edgar Allan Poe, poetry has been a means by which to express and describe the human experience. The terror of war or economic hardship, love, hate and regret; all of these emotions and experiences have been featured and eloquently conveyed through poetry.
How, then, can a machine write poetry? How can a machine experience human emotion and express these feelings? Well, for the time being, it can’t. What it can do, however, is interpret our language and create content.
Computer-generated poetry is real, and the quality may surprise you.
Computers have been writing poetry for quite some time now – and people often struggle to tell the difference. While these works do not have the same creative inspiration as those written by humans, they are still powerful and highlight a machine’s ability to use language in a creative capacity.
In 2010, a student from Duke University, Zackary Scholl, modified a programme that auto-generated poems. Scholl then submitted the work to a number of poetry sites online. The feedback these poems received from users was, in his words, “overwhelmingly positive”.
In fact, one of the poems he submitted was accepted by the Duke Literary Journal, The Archive, and reads:
“A home transformed by the lightning,
the balanced alcoves smother
this insatiable earth of a planet, Earth.
They attacked it with mechanical horns
because they love you, love, in fire and wind.
You say, what is the time waiting for in its spring?
I tell you it is waiting for your branch that flows,
because you are a sweet-smelling diamond architecture
that does not know why it grows.”
Scholl isn’t alone in his attempts, as Google’s artificial intelligence has also dabbed its hand at poetry. In 2016, Google sought to fine-tune its AI’s ability to communicate. To do this, the firm began feeding the AI with more than 11,000 unpublished books, along with 3,000 romance titles.
The outcome was quite remarkable, with the AI churning out a number of bizarre (and rather haunting) poems.
“Amazing, isn’t it?
so, what is it?
it hurts, isn’t it?
why would you do that?
you can do it.
I can do it.
I can’t do it.
I can do it.
don’t do it.
I can do it.
I couldn’t do it.”
Real or Robot? You Decide…
Some websites, such as ‘Bot or Not’ provide users with a quiz. The goal is simple – read a number of poems and work out which was written by a human. These websites are also accompanied by a plethora of bot poetry accounts on social media.
At DIGIT we decided to test our bot-catching ability and the results were…rather disappointing. The quality at times was astounding – and rather terrifying. Here are some excerpts as an example, and we’re not going to tell you which is human, and which is not (because we’re horrible like that…).
“Sad things are beautiful only from a distance,
therefore you just want to get away from them
from a distance of one hundred and thirty years
you can call the second half of someone’s life ‘mental breakdown and death’
I’m going to distance myself until the world is beautiful
Sylvia Plath is going to distance herself from wry detachment until she is accepted by the establishment
but if you forget how to be happy, uh, therefore you cannot be happy anymore
and a pecan is a kind of nut that can make me cry if I’m already sad about something else
but if I am really in love with things from a distance only I’m going to get away from the first half of my life….”
Scars on the awful and excellent Vapor and vigour
An instant’s pause boring fast
This year, the year,
a cod liver or off and motionless
More abundant you”
“A sturdy dove flies over a starving beaver
The dove watches the beaver and fantasizes that the beaver will chew some steak and lamb and lettuce. T
he beaver spies the dove and dreams of enrapturing and enthralling pleasures,
of hedge adorned avenues, studded with immense pink cottages,
of streets decorated with bushes and shrubs.
The beaver is insane.
The dove wings across the dark sky and the beaver ponders his fantasies”