Isaac Asimov gave us the “Three Laws of Robotics” and while a robot cannot harm a human, must obey orders given by humans and must protect its own existence as long as it doesn’t conflict with the other two laws, nothing says a robot can’t be a poet.
Poetry has a few definitions:
“Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature.”
“Writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.”
“The art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.”
The phrases ‘expression of feeling’, ‘imaginative awareness’ and ‘elevated thought’ struck me as the farthest choice of words applicable to a machine.
And yet here comes Zackary Scholl with a poem published by one of Duke University’s oldest literary magazines, The Archive:
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.
I’ll add one more player to this intriguing scenario, Alan Turing. We need him because the poem was submitted for publication after it passed the Turing Test.
Why would a poem have to pass a test for Artificial Intelligence?
Because Zackary Scholl didn’t write the poem—he wrote an algorithm. Here’s how he explained it in his blog four years after the poem’s publication:
“In conclusion it seems very possible to create an artificial intelligence to do specialized tasks, like writing poetry that can sufficiently pass as a human being. Perhaps in the future we will need to question the source of creative materials to determine whether they are indeed human or machine made.”
Wow. I looked up the algorithm and it has a name, JANUSNODE. It generates Definitions, Blues Lyrics, Haiku, Poems and also Advice.
And JANUSENODE is on Twitter.
I am so tempted and yet terrified. Please check out this site and add your comments. There are so many levels to computer-generated writing I feel compelled to start a dialog.
Perhaps there does need to be a fourth rule for robotics. What’s to stop an algorithm from creating bestseller after bestseller?
Whatever happens, keep writing, don’t quit; your writing is always a reflection of you. And you are not a robot.
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