Now is the turn of the Poetry for Robots project, a bonkers experiment if ever I’ve heard of one. The scheme provides a bank of 120 pictures for people to write poetry based on what they see. That is all right, I hear you say. After all, there is nothing wrong with being exposed to the image of a beautiful sunset or a leave falling off a tree in autumn. But, it does not end there. The project’s goal is to feed the resulting poems to robots to “see what happens”. Did you hear that door being slammed shut? That is my hope leaving the room. I bet Mr Robot will interpret that sentence literally.
|What is it I shall compare thee to again?|
Some experiments are best left in the planning stages. Without wanting to sound too controversial, this whole enterprise is a waste of time in my humble opinion. We do not need robots to understand or interpret poetry because we are still not done ensuring some of our fellow humans do the same thing. I’d much rather spend the money (if money is involved) in creating a programme to make poetry, both home-grown and foreign, available to every single child in the world.
Poetry is one of those artistic phenomena (literature is an art as far as I know and I treat it as such) that sits around us, quietly, reminding us of the beauty of the world. We might bring it in from the background or we might not. We might fall in love with it or we might just dip our big toe in it every now and then. But that it affects us all, there is no doubt. A robot lacks one of the most essential human characteristics in order to appreciate poetry: the ability to be amazed. Whether you feed your machine 120- or 240-picture-based poems, there is no way that it will wake up one morning (do robots sleep? That is a good question. Sometimes you need to have been asleep to appreciate poetry better), look out of its bedroom window and liken the sky outside to the tiles of the kitchen downstairs.
Without wanting to put poetry on a pedestal, this is a literary genre that provides an extra dimension to the human experience. A dimension that is unique in its creation and its interpretation. Factor technology in the equation and you get predictability. Predictable poetry is bad art in my view. Necessary, still, do not get me wrong; we still need written-by-numbers works in the world, but bad art it is. A bank of 120 images spells limitation to me. Poetry, if anything, should be the opposite of limitation, even when the poet uses one of the well-known traditional forms (sonnet, haikus, etc.).
A better idea in my view would be to create a bank containing every single poem ever written in the history of humankind and store it somewhere for posterity. Imagine that! Regardless of language or antiquity these works would show our common human bond. They would also be an invaluable educational tool to demonstrate to future generations how every single human being on the planet has consciously or unconsciously accessed the world of poetry.
I honestly think that the people behind the Poetry for Robots project are passionate about the power and reach of poetry to help us understand machines better. I just do not think that they have really thought their scheme through. In the process of understanding, decoding and falling in love with poetry there are many elements involved which robots sadly lack and will always lack, such as: nuance, emotions, aesthetics, spirituality, history, culture, upbringing… the list goes on. On the other hand, a project like the one I mentioned before could marry different generations across the ages. The irony is that we would have to get technology involved in it at some point in order to store the data and make it easily accessible to everyone. Without a doubt, that would be the kind of project where I would like to “see what happens”.
Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 17th June at 6pm (GMT)