Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

The Automated Poet

One week ago today, I heard a story on the news as I was driving into work that almost made me drive off the road into the lake (I exaggerate, just a wee bit). A student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a computer program that analyzed the works of Shakespeare, then helped the program’s creator write sonnets. The program would suggest words authentic to the Bard, using only words that Shakespeare himself used. The ultimate choice rested with the poet, student and program creator Nathan Mathias. According to the story, it’s “the same predictive software we see when our devices try to finish our sentences and suggest the next word.”

The story suggested that the next logical step is software that can create the entire poem, from stem to stern. Mathias believes we will see the creation of a fully-automated poet in his lifetime. And I have to ask the question:

Why?

15 Responses

  1. Skynet! It's coming! Self-aware poetic robots!

    Okay, no. Predictive software, in my opinion, would be like mad libs…entertaining perhaps but not true poetry.

  2. Okay, I'm laughing at myself right now. I saw the title of this post "Automated Post" and wondered what you automated! 🙂 As for the automated poet…why would anyone bother? Even if you could get it to work (with the emotional content and innuendo), it's not like poetry is in demand.

  3. Going with the list approach to replies today–why not?

    -Donna-yes! But at what point of 'thinking' will we consider the machines to have 'heart'?

    -L.G.–maybe sooner than you think! But what makes for 'true' poetry?

    -Stacy–While I don't notice the book stores overflowing with poetry when compared to fiction and non-fiction books, there are always calls for poets and poetry in all those contests and and such.

    -Jemi and Melissa–I agree. Like I said, maybe it can lead to a breakthrough in some other area, but I just don't see the real application here.

    Sheena-kay–hah! I just watched The Matrix the other night. Let's hope that's not in our future!

  4. I'm with you in the "Why?" department, but the difference is I'd expand that to include all poetry — except Seuss and the guy who wrote The Night Before Christmas. Those two can stay. The rest … why?

  5. Given the timing of the story, maybe it's a shortcut to seeming amazingly sweet, sensitive and romantic in a Valentine's card (when actually you are anything but?)

  6. I can't decide if this is an attempt to make progress for the sake of progress, or if we have just become that lazy that we want a robot to write our poetry for us. If it's the former, I cannot say it's a good thing. While the idea is really cool, I don't believe that progress without purpose (you cannot tell me that 'getting a robot to write poetry' is a legitimate purpose) is a healthy thing for the human race. If it is the former, I am simply disgusted and I have to say, THAT'S CHEATING!

    Poetry. You're doing it wrong.

    Thanks for sharing this, JeffO! I hadn't heard about it before.

  7. Continuing in list mode….

    -Lexa–Don't you like poetry? Shakespeare! Poe! Frost! Uh…all the rest! I confess, I don't read it as a rule, but I have a lot of respect for people who do it well.

    -Nice, Nick, I hadn't even thought of that!

    -Bonnee–don't hold back, tell us how you really feel! Though honestly, I'm having trouble seeing the practical applications of this myself.

  8. That's a lot of effort and money just to write poetry, especially when we have real people who will do it for free. But ultimately, writing comes from the spirit, and that can't be duplicated with a machine.

  9. I mean what's the point of creativity if you have a robot doing it all for you? They've making a robot poet now, but next it will be a robot short story writer, and they will eventually try to progress to a robot novelist. That's not creativity; that's science!

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