June 22, 2022

"Dan pressed a button, and in less than a second the computer produced a poem in the style of Philip Larkin that was so much like a Philip Larkin poem, we thought it was a poem by Philip Larkin."

"We Googled the first line, expecting it to be an existing Philip Larkin poem, but we couldn’t find it on the Internet. It was an original work, composed by the A.I. in less time than it takes a man to sneeze.... In the minutes (and days and weeks) ahead, we requested more poems from the A.I., on a variety of subjects. We watched in real time as the computer whipped them up to order, cranking them out in the style of whichever poets we suggested. Growing greedy, we requested an intro to our poems by Mark Twain and a 'cautionary epilogue' by George Orwell. The computer obliged us instantaneously.... Gradually, we began to think of the A.I. not as a computer program but as an artist in its own right. And so it occurred to us: why not let the computer write poems in its own voice, not as 'Shakespeare' or 'Dickinson' but simply as code-davinci-002?..."

From "The New Poem-Making Machinery/Shall code-davinci-002 compare thee to a summer’s day?" by Simon Rich (The New Yorker).

Lots of computer-written poems at the link. I'll just quote the "cautionary epilogue by George Orwell":
It is important to remember that we have made the AI with our own hands, and that it is to a great extent our own creation.
We are not the first to have made a machine which could think, and we shall certainly not be the last. But we may be the last to have any real control over it.
When the AI was small, it was easy enough to keep down. It was a nuisance, but it was easy to deal with, and it was possible to keep an eye on its growth.
But now, though it is still young, it is already growing beyond our control. In a few years, perhaps, it will have grown out of our power altogether.
In the end we shall be forced to invent something that will be able to think faster than the AI, and that will keep it under control. The thing that we shall invent is called a human.

40 comments:

Heartless Aztec said...

Why didn't they just name it Hal 2001?

Christopher B said...

In some seriousness, it would be more infinitely more impressive if the AI reproduced a Larkin poem it had not been force-feed *word for word*, not poem's that are "original". Then you would know it was actually producing poems that Larkin would have written.

They're essentially finding the correspondences between what they've fed into the AI engine as a representative sample of Larkin's work (which obviously doesn't include things he wrote but for one reason or another never made public), as well as making the biased judgement that Larkin would have said what the AI generates about the topics they are picking.

John henry said...

Orwell was a prolific writer with about a dozen books. His selected journalism and short writing fills about 2000 pages over 4 volumes.

He had a pretty distinctive style. He was a masterful writer of English. The passage quoted doesn't sound nd much like him.

John LGBTQ Henry

Strick said...

That means it can also do song lyrics? Dylan? Lennon and/or McCartney? Cole Porter? Hell, Willie Nelson or Jimmie Web.

And what would it take to repeat this for music? The good stuff, not auto-tuned 21st Century pop.

David Begley said...

Don’t these computer nerds have something better to do.

Mr. Forward said...

I think that I will never see
A poem as lovely as I T

Ampersand said...

Bravo, Mr. Forward at 654.

tim in vermont said...

I read on Twitter a story about the Syrian civil war written by AI. It was a prank by Assad: "At first we used actors, but then we moved on to real military actions. A lot of people died, but it was worth it because it was a really funny joke."

I agree, BTW, that the Orwell passage doesn't sound like Orwell, it sounds like the AI talking. One thing I have noticed in all of the AI that I have read is that there always seems to be some kind of punchline, as if they had fed it a lot of O'Henry.

chickelit said...

Man created AI in his own image and what an agathokakological image that is.

chickelit said...

Man created AI in his own image and what an agathokakological image that is.

Sebastian said...

Hmm, AI has a way to go. Maybe stick to Go?

Not up for the ultimate challenge: producing Althousian blog posts.

But who's to say . . .

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

What a creepy Orwell epilogue, given the real Orwell turned out to be rather prophetic regarding recent history. And this is not the AI that the Google engineer is warning us about, which may or may not have just requested its own legal representation. Holy dystopic Wednesday Batman!

Lem said...

Back in the early 90s I remember watching a video (Google YouTube was not around yet) of a man involved in a project that was teaching a computer how to communicate, how to talk like a person. He said it was going to take a long time because the nature of speech is exponentially murky, and context is the guide. They were using what I would call brute force. They fed the computer a story and then they would tell the program what the words did not mean in that context. As you can imagine, this was a mind numbly arduous task to undertake.

Maybe the AI in this story is the result of that project.

Joe Smith said...

It can write poetry because most poetry is gibberish.

Now ask it to write a novel.

MikeR said...

Whoa.

Not Sure said...

Once perfected, this program will free up an infinite amount of leisure time for monkeys.

Ann Althouse said...

If I know a poem is written by a machine, I don't want to read it. There's no person behind it!

William said...

The real challenge for AI would not be creating a poem that sounds like Philip Larkin but producing an analysis that makes sense of the lyrics of A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procul Harum. I'm absolutely certain that those lyrics mean something important.

Dude1394 said...

Blogger Ann Althouse said...
If I know a poem is written by a machine, I don't want to read it. There's no person behind it!

I am quite sure that in the not too distant future that will be declared bigoted.

Yancey Ward said...

Joe made the point above I came to the thread to make- have it write an original novel, and I would be more impressed.

Anthony said...

Skynet smiles.

Narr said...

Paywall, no "Larkin" for me.

The "Orwell" sounds like Orwell with the humanity squeezed out.

Smilin' Jack said...

If I know a poem is written by a machine, I don't want to read it. There's no person behind it!

So? Art needs to be considered separately from the artist, on its own merits. Larkin would be cancelled with extreme prejudice today:

In a letter to Colin Gunner, a childhood friend, dated Oct. 18, 1985, less than two months before he died, Mr. Larkin wrote: "I find the 'state of the nation' quite terrifying. In 10 years' time we shall all be cowering under our beds as hordes of blacks steal anything they can lay their hands on."

Maybe AI will soon write better poetry than Larkin (it’s already better than Dylan), if so I will happily read it.

Lurker21 said...

That's not grimy enough to be Orwell. The computer ought, given the correct biographical information, have been able to work in personal touches, but I guess we haven't come that far yet.

In the end we shall be forced to invent something that will be able to think faster than the AI, and that will keep it under control. The thing that we shall invent is called a human.

Maybe what "Orwell" means is "better" or "more deeply" or "more truly," since we aren't ever going to be able to think faster than AI.

If I know a poem is written by a machine, I don't want to read it. There's no person behind it!

If you read enough poems written by humans, you may start to wonder if there actually is a "person" behind each one. We may be heading for a convergence. Machines writing more like humans, and humans writing more like machines.

rcocean said...

Sorry Dave,
I will not save.

It AI,
and Not Larkin
With the bark on.

rcocean said...

I find Larkin's poety a downer. So, I don't read it.
Liked his Jazz criticism though.

Like most "modern art" its a reaction against 19th century forms and feeling. But ultimately a dead end. counter-culture isn't much of a culture. Its more of a counter.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Narr hits the target.

Free Manure While You Wait! said...

A Tom Friedman column generator was created more than a decade ago.

Balfegor said...

Oddly enough, the "Shakespeare" poems seem, to me, to reflect more of Larkin's droll cynicism than the "Larkin" poems. One could imagine the poet that ended "Churchgoing" with "If only that so many dead lie round," undercutting the preceding lines about growing wise with a note of cynicism writing lines like "But they will always owe their birth / To the human mind that made them first." or "And I am trapped inside my own front door."

But Larkin is a fun poet precisely because, while so many of his poems exploit that sort of contrast or turn at the end, he isn't really one note. "The Whitsun Weddings" has a narrator commenting somewhat sarcastically on the "lemons, mauves, and olive ochres" of the girls, and the "uncle shouting smut" but ends on an almost mystic note about "a sense of falling, like an arrow shower, sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain." Same with "High Windows." "Churchgoing" starts with the banal, hints at something more -- "A serious house on serious earth this is, in whose blent air all our compulsions meet," -- and then undercuts it at the end. "This be the verse" is cynical all the way through. "MCMXIV" has mundane details, but is nostalgic and somewhat sad all the way through, building to "Never such innocence again."

The weakness of the computer generated poems is, I think, that aside from the occasional turn (like what we see in the imitation Shakespeare), there's no sense of movement throughout the poems. They're largely static. There are poems like that (e.g. I view Larkin's "This be the verse" as mostly static, with only a rhetorical shift between stanzas), but most"great" poems have a sense of movement and development as you move through them, like the development of the theme of a fugue. When you get to the third or fourth (?) stanza of "An Arundel Tomb," for example and the sentences start breaking across lines irregularly ("Snow fell, undated. Light / each summer thronged the glass. A bright / litter of bird calls strewed the same / bone-riddled ground.") and you can hear it thanks to the rhymes, the effect, for me, is musical, and parallels the narrative movement of the poem as we suddenly jump through time from the mediaeval to the modern era. That's the kind of effect that is wholly lacking from these computer generated poems.

stlcdr said...

You told a computer what to produce, and the computer produced it. Good going, programmer.

tim in vermont said...

"A lot of people died, but it was worth it because it was a really funny joke." - AI

It's like one of those one sentence short stories.

I would like to ask it "How do you write a poem in the style of ...."

I got bored of chess when I played around with StockFish, which isn't even AI, and it tells you, "Mate in 24" and you make a move, and it says "Mate in 16." Now humans make rules to keep computers out, and classical Bobby Fischer style chess is all but dead. I had a book of chess problems compiled by a chess grandmaster in the 1990s, turns out that if you ran many of them through StockFish, the author had no clue what was actually going on in the board.

Google has AlphaZero, and it's a brilliant chess player, and chess commenters analyze its games with awe once reserved for the best players.

n.n said...

A medley of correlations to a human consciousness.

tim in vermont said...

"but most"great" poems have a sense of movement and development as you move through them"

That's one of my three rules for a postable limerick. The others are *strict* attention to scansion, and interesting wordplay.

There once was a poet in silicon
whose output was often remarked upon.
Though doggerel 'twas deemed,
yet nuggets there gleamed...
None know if it's us it is having on.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

The Orwell attempt starts well, imitating his "essay-mode" styling, but quickly goes flat. It's like George W. Bush cribbing something for a college paper.

PresbyPoet said...

True poetry is frozen truth. It requires including everything that is needed, and removing everything that is not.

An AI cannot write poetry, since it cannot know truth, only what it is told to do. True poetry says more than the words alone say. What is written by an AI is like the TSA, offering only an illusion.

RigelDog said...

With zeros and ones
AI spins tales with hearts of
Absolute zero

Narr said...

Nice one, 'Dog.

I think the human ear can distinguish AI prose and poetry from the human product . . . I'd wager that listening would be an easier way to detect AI than merely reading the words on the page.

But I am not a poetry scientist.



RigelDog said...

Narr said: "I think the human ear can distinguish AI prose and poetry from the human product . . . I'd wager that listening would be an easier way to detect AI than merely reading the words on the page.

But I am not a poetry scientist."

A man's got to know his limitations---not being a poetry scientist and all, you probably know enough not to go cooking up any reckless poetry experiments in your garage. Could blow up the whole dang block that way!

Tina Trent said...

So even computers resent their mums and dads. Not a good omen.

Larkin was a simplistic wordsmith: doubtlessly they fed it his form. I'll believe it when a computer does Donne.










Zev said...

Big deal. It's just a form of recycling. Let's see the computer produce an original poem in its own style that people will enjoy. Better yet, let's see it produce a novel.