An exhibition that marks the 700 year anniversary of famous Italian poet Dante will be showcasing the work of an artificially intelligent poet, Ai-Da, who will become the first ever robot to recite their own algorithmically produced poetry in a public setting.
Ai-Da was created in Oxford by Aidan Meller. The robot was named after computing icon Ada Lovelace. Meller had given Ai-Da Dante’s three-part narrative poem to read, from which she then used the work, her own algorithms, a data bank of words, and speech pattern analysis to devise her own reactive poetry to the piece. This poetry will be recited at the event in Dante’s honour that is being held tonight at Oxford’s Ashmolean museum.
Although Ai-Da is not the first robot to write poetry, she will indeed be the first to recite her poetry as a human being would do. One passage of her poem read: “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.” Another passage reads: “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.”
Meller is an art specialist, and says that Ai-Da’s poetry is produced completely independently, thanks to her own unique AI language model. He said: “People are very suspicious that the robots aren’t doing much, but the reality is language models are very advanced, and in 95% of cases of editing, it’s just that she’s done too much, she can give us 20,000 words in 10 seconds, and if we need to get her to say something short and snappy, we would pick it out from what she’s done. But it is not us writing.”
He also said that it was “deeply unsettling” how the language models that AI like Ai-Da have been developing, saying: “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.”
Poet Carol Rumens has stated that she felt that the robot’s poem was “very odd”, citing that the lines about requiring a needle and thread to complete a picture was “the point where I’d think the poem might be falling apart, or becoming very experimental – but still not uninteresting”.
“The image of the hawk tamed by having its eyes sewn up is close to the original and still powerful … It has kept the best bit of the passage, despite the muddle of registers and strange orientation. The rhythm of the lines seems to flow quite well,” added Rumens. “I think there’s hope for the robot-poet.”
Meller mentioned: “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,” he added that “it is not a question of competition, but rather a question of discussion and potential action.”
“All of us should be concerned about widespread use of AI language models on the internet, and how that will affect language, and crucially, meaning making, in the future. If computer programmes, rather than humans, are creating content that in turn shapes and impacts the human psyche and society, then this creates a critical shift and change to the use and impact of language – which we need to be discussing and thinking about.”
Several other pieces of art created by Ai-Da will be displayed at the exhibition, including the piece called ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, an art piece in response to her detainment in Egypt last month, when Egyptian authorities were concerned about the cameras found within her eyes. “Her artwork reflects on the power of sight and surveillance in the modern world, it’s propensity to elicit distrust, and the tension it can create.”