Poetry by Robots for Robots

A drawing by Leo Gestel

A lot of ink and electrons have been spilled on the task of getting our machines to pass the Turing test. It is indeed an accomplishment of some proportion if a computer’s linguistic or artistic output can pass for human-generated. But does a passing grade really mean genuine awareness?

Consider the many Turing tests designed to test computational creativity with poetry. For example, there’s bot or not, Ray Kurzweil’s CyberArt site, and The Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College’s Turing Tests in Creativity. In addition to a poetry exercise, the latter includes a Turing tests for short stories and dance music (called AlgoRhythms!). All of these experiments encourage creative output that is indistinguishable from human creations. Trick the judge and win!

Perhaps passing as something you aren’t is a human prerogative. But mere mimicry is common in nature — and often a prelude to a kill. Passing as your true self by means of voluntary artistic expression — now THAT belies an awareness that approaches the sublime. So I propose a new test. An actual humanish intelligence would respond to its perceived surroundings — what a poet might call prompts or a scientist qualia — with spontaneous metaphorical description.

What’s more, these descriptions, these metaphors, would derive in part from the embodiment of the mind creating them. We do this all the time. Our embodied cognition is evidenced in our language by sight metaphors like “I see your point” or “the plot was clear to me.” It’s not surprising that a primate species should experience and describe reality with sight metaphors. But it is surprising that a machine with a wholly different physicality should be expected to do so.

Instead, it would be grand if AI was put to this test: write poetry for other AI, using metaphors that make sense to AI. Perhaps the robots would write poems about feeling “chippy” or about how the Moon’s infrared wavelengths are like spiral drifting algorithms. Let’s have robot judges preside over the test. Ideally, the poetry would be opaque to human readers; after all, it flows from the embodied minds of machines. We will have to be content with our own poets, our own dreams of electric sheep.

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