It’s unlikely that John Maynard Keynes was thinking about poetry when imagining the economic future of “technological unemployment” one-hundred years after the Great Depression. Since then the impact of technology has only accelerated. The technological unemployment of factory mechanisation in the early twentieth century has been replaced by artificial intelligence and automation. So, is the arrival of A.I. poetry a surprise or an essential step in the development of future creative technologies? Will the chat-bots advise humans to “be humble, as you crawl beneath our rods!”?
In 2020 Google launched its poetry generator Verse by Verse. The website is a self described, “experimental AI-powered muse that helps you compose poetry inspired by classic American poets”. The A.I. is trained on the work of twenty-two American poets, including Robert Frost, Emily Dickenson and Paul Laurence Dunbar. After selecting up to three of these poets as your “muses”, you proceed to choose a form structure and syllable count for your verse. Then the writing begins.
To get the words to flow from your digital co-authors you are prompted to write the first line. (As an aside I like this feature as it makes you more engaged in the process). Then you can select the subsequent lines provided from each of your chosen poets. One of my experiments is below. For this attempt I selected Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman and Emma Lazarus as my muses, a quatrain structure and ten syllable lines.
After filling in the opening line I select one from each of the suggestions. Luckily you have the option to write more of the lines yourself. Verse by Verse is a strange tool, I was neither amazed nor bored by my experience using it. I found that the suggestions were more interesting when more constraints were chosen. The ‘blank verse’ generation seemed less appropriate. Verse By Verse reminds me of the magnet poetry that adorned my fridge for a brief time as a child. The results were, progressively ridiculous sentences constructed from a limited vocabulary. If you have not previously decorated your fridge with fridge magnet poetry, I highly recommend it.
In the end, I did not feel that I was provided with a new selection of canonical work to pass off as my own (despite taking the suggestions of my muses), but I did enjoy playing with the generated lines and thinking how their suggestions fit with my own lines.
If you are interested in other A.I. algorithms that are tackling poetry, Verse By Verse is not the only A.I. poetry project in town. Deep-speare, is another program composing sonnets based on the style of William Shakespeare. Digital tools have become the norm for musicians and visual artists of every creed, and increasingly they are deploying A.I. features to automate sound and image manipulation to empower artists with creative tools for new horizons. I suspect poets won’t be too far behind in employing new technologies, but I think that employment rather that “technological unemployment” will remain the economic concern for poets.