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Dartmouth Contest Shows Computers Aren't Such Good Poets


A robot writing a sonnet.

Computers are pretty good at stocking shelves and operating cars, but are not so great at writing poetry.

Credit: Bruno Moraes

A yearlong Dartmouth College competition focused on the performance of artificial intelligence algorithms that generated sonnets to see if a three-judge panel could distinguish between machine- and human-produced content.

The panel was asked to read 10 submissions, including six produced by humans and four by two different algorithms. The algorithms were provided with nouns and programmed to produce a sonnet.

The software failed to have the flow or narrative of a good poem, and judge Louis Menand notes some sonnets exhibited "idiosyncrasies of syntax and diction, uses of language that were just a little off."

Dartmouth professor Dan Rockmore says the computers' poor performance was not entirely surprising, as "the judges were hunting for machines so they are not looking at a Hallmark card and reading the poem inside."

Still, fellow Dartmouth professor Michael Casey speculates algorithms may one day be able to reproduce human-level poetic subtlety, form, and precision. He and Rockmore note algorithms currently are playing a role in selecting the content people consume, and being able to produce the content itself is an eventuality, although the artist in this instance would be the algorithm's coder.

From Associated Press
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