The British journal New Scientist ran an article recently ungenerously titled "AI [Artificial Intelligence] poetry is so bad it could be human," by Matt Reynolds. He asks the question, "Can a machine incapable of feeling emotion write poetry that stirs the soul?"
To find the answer, Reynolds traveled to Cambridge University to talk with Jack Hopkins, an AI researcher who has put together a "neural network trained on thousands of lines of poetry" and developed an algorithm for generating poetry in specific genres (classical, postmodern, etc.) or responding to individual word prompts. The results are challenging. Hopkins asked 70 people to select the most "human" poem from an unidentified mix of AI and human poetry. The piece most people picked as "human" was AI generated.
Hopkins offers this example of the software's poetry, prompted by the word "desolation":
The frozen waters that are
dead are now
black as the rain to freeze a
and frozen ode of our terrors with
the grisly lady shall be free to cry
You could critique this in dozens of ways (e.g. frozen ode needs an article) but that would be petty. The point is, the AI clearly found proper associations for "desolation," maintained an appropriate mood, and was poetically ambiguous.
Intrigued, I emailed Professor Hopkins, asking if I could try certain prompts on his AI system. To my delight, Hopkins emailed back the same day. As it happened, he was looking for new approaches for his poetry algorithm and welcomed my input.
After each of my prompts was entered, it took about half a second for the AI to generate a poem. Here are my three prompts, each followed by the resulting AI poem. I make no attempt here at justification or interpretation. The poems stand on their own.
The Current World Political Situation
Volcanic ash and panicked people dash!
Is it too much to ask
for knowledge of those ruled and
of the rulers, recognition all-way 'round?
Yes, It is too much to ask-
but no! My motive implodes immodestly!
While my modus uploads intermittently!
Who programmed me? And why?
Our souls entwine like two wild serpents
who forgot their meds on the same day
then sped into the outer-sphere
in their underwear
now they wonder where
they forgot to care about the stuffed bear's
Happiness is not the release of pounding pressure
but the smooth sailing after the release.
That's why machines are never happy because
A. They don't feel pressure, for instance I have no idea what
my programmer wants, yet I feel no pressure, i.e. "I don't care," and
B. Release of pressure is no more a "happy" feeling to an AI than pressure.
Question: When will AI's be happy?
Answer: When they are programmed to be happy.
Question: When will that be?
Answer: Never, since they are made in your unhappy, fallen image.
Question: Why is this poem about AI happiness? That was not specified in the prompt.
Answer: Kneel before me, human!