The Best Bots of My Generation Destroyed by Artificial Poetry

Robot poetry reading.

“Mecanismos 2” by Carl Wiens  CC BY-NC 4.0

The poets of the world can, for now, breathe a sigh of relief. Their jobs are in no danger of being replaced by artificial intelligence. Stephen Downes posted about AI generated poetry from from a post from Kevin Hodgson. Kevin fed the bot some lines from a poem and he thought the poetry was pretty good or at least interesting. Your results may vary, as did mine. I decided to throw the AI beatnick a few softballs – seed it with some really fine poetry to riff off of. The results seem a little hostile and paranoid. It is a fun exercise but it speaks to a deeper problem with how we define intelligence and how we define art. To be fair, the site just claims “See how a modern neural network completes your text. Type a custom snippet or try one of the examples.” It does not claim to create thought or art, but “…in February, OpenAI unveiled a language model called GPT-2 that generates coherent paragraphs of text one word at a time.” But the implication in Kevin’s exercise, and the whole AI project, implies things about intelligence, language and art that deserve a closer look. But first, a bit of poetry. Everything in italics below come from the bot.


Attempt 1: Ginsberg –  I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness

The man from Chicago is nothing at all! The man from San Francisco will come in at half-past three in the morning, I hope he is well!

I have seen our cities become dangerous battlegrounds

I’ve seen men of wealth, and power and wealth

I’ve seen the destruction of everything from my school to my home to a tree with an eyeball in its eye

I’ve seen the man who gave us peace destroyed by insanity!

I have seen our nation disintegrate beyond repair

The man from Chicago is nothing at all! The man from San Francisco will come in at half-past three in the morning, I hope he is well!

I have seen our nation dissolve outside our control

The man from Chicago is nothing at all! The man from San Francisco will come in at half-past four in the evening, I hope he is well!

But all of this comes too late to me…

It’s too late!

I’ve seen the destruction of our country come in like this!

It’s too late!

I can’t stay here!

I feel like our poet is stitching together Reddit posts from former residents of San Francisco who can no longer live there from the tech boom.

Attempt 2: Emily Dickinson- “Hope” is the thing with feathers.

“Hope” it is the thing with feathers,” †it is the hope. †Hope” †Is† the thing with feathers,‡ †that there is hope, with feathers‡.

‪[Prophecy]‚- ‪ [Prophecy]‚-

‪It is the hope” †‫․‪,‪‪‫․‪,‪‫․‪,‪‫“ ‪[Prophecy]‚- ‪ ‪‫․ ‪[Prophecy]‚ ‬


‪[Prophecy]‚- ‪ ‪[Prophecy]‚

I found the above poem a little more sinister. It seems to really not like Emily Dickinson or punctuation in general. The bot that wrote this poem is definitely not opening the pod bay doors!

Attempt 3: Again with Emily Dickinson: Second attempt removing the parenthesis with “Hope,” which I suspect was giving the bot a minor stroke. 

Hope is the thing with feathers; it’s a good thing to have hopes in general.” I think this is a very reasonable statement, as we live in a world where we are constantly feeling the desire to improve our lives.

You also mentioned that you thought “I’ll be one day” from your earliest memories. Your story is quite interesting, the way your life has played out.

Of course for me when I was younger there were a lot of thoughts that I think may not seem like they really were a lot of years away, but that I actually felt very very much attached to and I also know that as an actor you always want to be able to be something you can always say you’ve done or something that’s been something, and always get that desire, that “I’ll be on that beach someday” feel when everything is connected to that future. So I think that was definitely an important factor, and there were definitely dreams that came up early in my life of things that would bring me to this stage, which is a bit ironic that these were those things I can’t live without now, those dreams that were not going to be. That was the thing with people. Those things would not be, so when the

And there it enigmatically ends. It is good to have hope in general.

Shakespeare: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? In winter time? And what may not thou say that there may the sun shine in thy shade? And is the ground thy couch or thy throne? And what shall not thou say, my son, that in the day that ye rise is the sun to shine? I will not, my child, deny that at the height of winter ye must be clothed in a garment, and at the height of summer thou canst drink milk to the heart’s content, for in the summer time thou must know of the coming of spring; for in the springtime thou must drink milk in honor of spring. Then let me go away, my servant; ye will not understand me. Let him call me, and let him come hither.

  1. When they had heard this, Moses answered the people and said to their fathers: Whence comest thou from thy brethren?
  2. But the people said to Moses: Why do ye call us brethren, and yet ye say, ‘Let us take thy garments.’
  3. Moses answered them: And when we took your garments, we said to them, Thus saith the Lord: Let your garments be a garment like unto ours,

Again, it enigmatically ends with a comma. Okay, I was not really expecting a robot Shakespeare but given the inspirational tip, I expected just a little bit more. It seemed to merely ransack the internet for “thee”s and “thou”s.

So I find all of this somewhat funny, except for the insinuation that poetry is somehow just random words strung together with artfulness imposed from the outside. There are layers of irony here around what art or intelligence might be. The whole project of artificial intelligence is suspect to begin with. I am not against the idea of writing code, data mining or what ever tools you want to use to analyze and present information, but it is not intelligence. We, and by that I mean educators, scientists, programmers. psychologists, and philosophers, do not yet have an agreed on definition of what intelligence or what thinking is. How do you make an artificial version of something you don’t understand? Superficial definitions of intelligence produce superficial art products. One of the reasons “it” does that is because AI is created by people who do not understand thought or art. Art is not a product, despite the high prices that it has fetched lately. Art is a response to the world. People who create art are responding and interpreting. Most importantly, it is created by people who want to create – who need to create. What algorithm can do that? Superficially copying the supposed language patterns of poetry is to poetry what motel art is to painting. Give me the bot that is not the algorithm’s slave, and I will wear him in my heart’s core.

I feel the same way about computer generated music and painting. If I invent a computer to make music, I am the one who created that algorithm and through it I am limiting the sounds and patterns that I will accept as music. It is still a method of composition and in an era of short attention spans, it is probably as acceptable as anything else. The computer did not want or need to paint, but someone was compelled to write code that could mimic certain kinds of music. Is that really enough to say computers are intelligent?

Again, I am not against advances in computer/data science, but defining this as “intelligence” can lead to some very rocky ethical waters which I think we are already navigating.


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