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30 June 2016 @ 11:21 pm
Turing Test sonnets  
Human or Machine: Can You Tell Who Wrote These Poems?

One of them is a dead giveaway of the "well, someone fed the works of Shakespeare into a computer" sort, if you have read enough Shakespeare sonnets to recognize the sorts of vocabulary that you'll find there. (I clicked through to read about the programmers, and sure enough: Shakespeare is a major part of their corpus.)

The other thing that struck me about this is how much the computer-generated sonnets remind me of what people think poetry ought to sound like - mostly, a bunch of disparate (though possibly arresting) images that never build to a point. It's certainly possible to read a poem - a human-written one, I mean - and not understand every line, but there is some kind of organizing principle that will keep you on track (especially in a form as strict and structured as a sonnet). But I think a lot of people think of poetry as sort of floaty nonsense - in which case it becomes a lot harder to say for certain whether a poem was actually written by a person with something to say, or generated by a computer programmed to optimize rhyme patterns. (Do the computer scientists ever employ poets? Or literary critics? Or linguists? Someone who would notice the lack of meaningful grammar and syntax?)

…Now I kind of want to reverse-engineer a lesson plan in which I make my ninth-graders explain to me why the computer-generated poems here are actually not poems.
a_t_raina_t_rain on July 1st, 2016 04:36 am (UTC)
Thoughts: 1) Sonnet #1 is gorgeous and heartbreaking; 2) this is ridiculously easy; 3) I think you're absolutely right in your diagnosis of why it's so easy, and why it's depressing that some people find it hard; 4) nevertheless, the human ones are more obvious than the machine-generated ones, and I think this would be a much harder quiz if it included four machine-generated sonnets and two human ones instead of the other way around. (Because people can, and do, write bad poetry; but machines can't write good poetry, and it wasn't too hard to decide that the two that could plausibly have been written by a machine had to be the only two that were.)
tempestsarekind: viola readingtempestsarekind on July 1st, 2016 12:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, Sonnet #1 really is heartbreaking! That's one of the ones, interestingly, that some people weren't sure about - probably because it does have quite a few single-line images in it. But the thing that it does that a computer-generated sonnet doesn't do is meaningful repetition to tie those disparate images together, especially the repetition of the word "same." (There are other things as well, of course, but I suspect that it was the one-line images that made people hesitate.)

And there seemed to be a lot of confusion about #4 in the comments, because people didn't think it was relatable or good - which surprised me, because, again, it's logical, and the computer-generated ones aren't; that's sort of all you need to know. (Also, I don't see a computer coming up with that chain of thought that starts with the word "strumpet" and ends with the closing couplet: "Her love is full and indiscriminate / And even so you’ll find no sin in it.")

But yes, having to find the human poems in a mostly-computer bunch might have been the more interesting test!

I try not to think about this sort of thing, but there are days when I wonder whether my students are going to grow up and (for example) not be able to tell the difference between actual poems and computer-generated strings of words and images, despite the English classes in which I think I am trying to give them the tools to appreciate poetry. After all, the commenters must have had English teachers at some point, too...
negothicknegothick on July 1st, 2016 04:30 pm (UTC)
"Her love is full and indiscriminate / And even so you’ll find no sin in it."
I didn't know that W.S. Gilbert wrote sonnets! Sounds like someone ran the Savoy Operas into that computer.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on July 2nd, 2016 01:09 am (UTC)
Well, that one was written by a human - so maybe a Gilbert and Sullivan fan!