I feel like this post needs a disclaimer: I don’t like poetry.
The dislike has been a long-standing one, reaching back to middle school days when poetry, reading and writing, was a significant part of my class’s English assignments. I always stumbled on these assignments, because a) directed to find and put together words that rhyme in a way that makes sense, my brain would immediately begin to malfunction, and b) I didn’t understand why I had create a poem when it would be so much easier to just write what I wanted to say in a nice, solid paragraph.
So when the TEDTalks YouTube channel suggested this video to me, “Can a computer write poetry?”, my immediate concern was how this would be applicable to middle school English assignments.
Let me tell you now that this is not what the video is about.
In the video, writer Oscar Schwartz brings poetry into the world of sci-fi, using a computer algorithm that takes words from a selected source and then uses those words to create a “poem.” Interestingly enough, this was one of the first ways software engineers, as early as the 1950s, attempted to test a computer’s capacity for original thought.
The results, which are extremely varied, are really part of a wider philosophical discussion on what constitutes humanity, as Schwartz rightly points. Within that discussion, many questions are raised: What constitutes original thought? What factors lead us to perceive certain things as being innately human, while others are easily mistaken for the work of an artificial being? What does that say about the human who created the latter work? How does our perception of a work of self-expression affect our belief in its value?
More importantly, does this mean we can now eliminate poetry modules from English curricula?