In 1989, scholar Norman Cousins published a piece called The Poet and the Computer. Anticipating the computer revolution at his doorstep (In 1989! The year Milli Vanilli had two #1 Billboard hits!), Cousins makes a plea: do not allow our machines to dehumanize us. And he offers a specific prescription against the potential malady - poetry.
"The danger," he explains, is "not so much that man will be controlled by the computer as that he may imitate it.” Intimate and repeated communication with the robots may require us to too conform our minds to their limited logics and cold calculations. True, computers offer access to knowledge at an unprecedented scale, but, he explains "Unobstructed access to facts can produce unlimited good only if it is matched by the desire and ability to find out what they mean and where they would lead.”
To preserve and reinforce meaning, Cousins hypothesizes that “…it might be fruitful to effect some sort of junction between the computer technologist and the poet.” And I agree. In the Imaginary Paper Poetry for Robots, I take this one step further - I propose we write poetry for the robots. What would happen if we created metaphorical metadata for an image bank? Would a search for ‘stars' return image of ‘eyes'?
At poetry4robots.com, we’ve made the experiment live. This ‘digital humanities experiment’ is being conducted by Neologic Labs, Webvisions, and Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination. Go there, write some poetry for the robot. At Webvisions Chicago 2015, we will query the machine mind and see what it has learned about how we see the world.