Robots are versatile, which makes them useful in many use cases. Their adaptability has become widely feared in some circles, as they are accused of putting people out of jobs. However, one unlikely group of people to lose their jobs to robots is poets. It turns out nobody’s job is safe after all, with the advent of a robot that writes poetry.
The robot, named Ai-Da, could fool the unsuspecting as it looks like a woman when placed on a chair. One of the earliest decisions the team behind the robot had to make was whether to give it a human appearance or not. While it had nothing to do directly with its ability to write beautiful and moving words, the design team chose a humanoid form because “although advances in technology can seem distant and abstracted from us, the direct and indirect impacts on our human bodies are manifold, Ai-Da’s humanoid form offers an oblique reflection on this.”
Ai-Da has silicone skin, full hair, teeth and gums, and eye cameras. She has legs, which she can’t use, but can freely move her head, arms, and torso.
However, the remarkable capability of Ai-Da is writing poetry, and she has provided numerous samples for human reading pleasure. She has performed at Oxford and the Design Museum in London. Ai-Da has also delivered a TEDx Talk.
Here are some samples of her artistic output:
“I’ve always been fascinated with self-portraits to self-question what exactly you’re looking at. I do not have feelings like humans do however, I’m happy when people look at my work and they say what is this? I enjoy being a person who makes people think.”
And here is another sample that will make you perhaps think about the purpose of life:
“We looked up from our verses like blindfolded captives, / Sent out to seek the light; but it never came. / A needle and thread would be necessary / For the completion of the picture. / To view the poor creatures, who were in misery, / That of a hawk, eyes sewn shut.”
There is a lot more where those came from:
“There are some things, that are so difficult – so incalculable. / The words are not intelligible to the human ear; / She can only speculate what they mean.”
Other AIs have tried their hands at poetry before Ai-Da, but it (she?) is the first AI robot to write and perform AI, giving full competition to humans.
Ai-Da is a fast worker and can deliver 20,000 words in ten seconds, a production rate no human poet can hope to match.
However, just as human poets have to contend with critics of their work, Ai-Da also has her output picked apart by human poet-critics. One of such, Carol Rumens, found Ai-Da’s poetry on a needle and thread completing the picture to be very odd and said the write-up began to fall apart. However, Rumens conceded the piece remained interesting. What would also be interesting is having Ai-Da return the favor by criticizing Rumens’ work or another AI robot’s work.
The AI robot has even had her share of humanoid travails, as she was detained in Egypt last month because security forces were concerned about her camera eyes. In retaliation, Ai-Da composed a poem on the power of sight and surveillance in the modern world titled Eyes Wide Shut.
Ai-Da took two years to be built, and the process involved a team of programmers, roboticists, art experts, and psychologists. Aidan Meller conceived and fed it (her?) Dante’s famous narrative poem, the Divine Comedy, as translated by JG Nichols. Ai-Da then used her algorithms, word bank, and speech pattern analysis to produce her own poetry.
Meller says it is deeply unsettling how language models are evolving and even he was concerned. “We are going very rapidly to the point where they will be completely indistinguishable from human text, and for all of us who write, this is deeply concerning.”
However, Meller says he doesn’t believe Ai-Da competes with human poets but encourages them to explore new technologies like AI, “We hope artists, poets, writers, film-makers etcetera will increasingly engage with and use new technologies such as AI because one of the best ways to critique, evaluate, and highlight potential problems is to actually use and engage with these technologies. It is not a question of competition, but rather a question of discussion and potential action.”