A computer science graduate at Edinburgh University is experimenting with poetics and robotics. Luxi Liu is responsible for this small white 3D printed box of tricks named “Poet on The Shore”. Its job is to wander up and down the sand, writing poetry. I know it sounds pretty basic, and perhaps a tad useless, but the research has got something very important to discover.
So far the machine is writing pre-programmed lines from a database of lines, but the final goal post is to have it making its own poetry. The robot is destined to be a creative computer. On some level, every computer is programmed, but with artificial intelligence, we can program them a little bit and then have them program themselves.
It's been shown that artificially intelligent machines can and have already developed their own languages that we as their creators didn't create. The robot in question was created at OpenAI labs, non-profit AI research facility owned by Tesla's Elon Musk. This seems like a step in the create direction, although what a computer calls language is simply a manner of information exchange and is purely logical. From telling its neighbour about the obstacles in their path to writing metaphorical and insightful verses is a big step.
With all creative arts, including poetry, the feeling and emotional clarity of the work adds to the overall proficiency of the artist. A machine cannot feel its art. What it can do is learn what works best and what other people like the best. It can technically learn through trial and error, provided that it gets true feedback. If someone told it that its lousy poem was superb, for example, it would add this false information into the ingredients of its next poem. A poet, on the other hand, may detect the rouse.
As the Poet on the Shore progresses, teaching it what makes a good poem is going to be difficult. Using data driven teaching is probably going to be the way forward. Teaching a blind person to paint would be a similar task. Through many trial and error repetitions, the blind person may eventually become a good painter but they'd never have the privilege of seeing their work. As this poetic robot learns to write decent and original verse, it too will never be able to stand back to admire the art. It will just continue on, writing more and more.
The machine is however equipped with various sensors to detect the surroundings, it is hoped that the various inputs given by the gadgets will prompt the lines in the poetry written. The input output theory seems fine, but there's no sensor for the mind's eye, which is where all the best art comes from.
It must be said that one of the most rewarding parts of being an artist, after getting paid of course, is the feeling of enjoying its production and then standing back to enjoy the creation. Knowing we were responsible for it is an odd feeling. The thrill is a mixture of bliss and anxiety, every new piece of art changes the world just a little bit and we are the ones who did it. Is it right to give that power to a robot? After-all they're building houses and writing wills without caring about their clients, perhaps the age of silicon poetry will have something to teach us about what it is to be human?
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