Enter the maze

I wandered lonely as a mass of dejected vapour

by Jane Waite, Queen Mary University of London

A fluffy cloud in a blue sky: copyright www.istockphoto.com 48379442

Ever used an online poem generator, perhaps to get started with an English assignment? They normally have a template and some word lists you can fill in, with a simple algorithm that randomly selects from the word lists to fill out the template. "I wandered lonely as a cloud" might become "I zoomed destitute as a rainbow" or I danced homeless as a tree". It would all depend on those word lists. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning researchers are aiming to be more creative.

Stanford University, the University of Massachusetts and Google have created works that look like poems, by accident. They were using a machine learning Artificial Intelligence they had previously 'trained' on romantic novels to research the creation of captions for images, and how to translate text into different languages. They fed it a start and end sentence, and let the AI fill in the gap. The results made sense though were 'rather dramatic': for example

he was silent for a long moment
he was silent for a moment
it was quiet for a moment
it was dark and cold
there was a pause
it was my turn

Is this a real poem? What makes a poem, a poem is in itself an area of research, with some saying that to create a poem, you need a poet and the poet should do certain things in their 'creative act'. Researchers from Imperial College London and University College Dublin used this idea to evaluate their own poetry system. They checked to see if the poems they generated met the requirements of a special model for comparing creative systems. This involved things like checking whether the work formed a concept, and including measures such as flamboyance and lyricism.

Read some poems written by humans and compare them to poems created by online poetry generators. What makes it creativity? Maybe that's up to you!