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Poetry for Robots: A Digital Humanities Experiment


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In 1989, scholar Norman Cousins published a piece called The Poet and the Computer. Anticipating the computer revolution at his doorstep 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.

To preserve and reinforce humanness, Cousins hypothesizes that “…it might be fruitful to effect some sort of junction between the computer technologist and the poet.” And I agree. 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, 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.

This talk is about how we may further turn to the arts and humanities to ensure human-centric UX.

Published in: Technology
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Poetry for Robots: A Digital Humanities Experiment

  1. 1. Corey S. Pressman @cspressman @neologicpdx
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  5. 5. metonymy metaphor
  6. 6. metonymy metaphor
  7. 7. metonymy metaphor
  8. 8. Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
  9. 9. heart
  10. 10. Anger Joy Fear
  11. 11. desire paths
  12. 12. desire paths
  13. 13. metadata now metadatathen
  14. 14. digital possessions
  15. 15.
  16. 16. happy, hope, sea, silence
  17. 17. happy
  18. 18. sad & hopeful
  19. 19. sad & hopeful
  20. 20. sad & hopeful
  21. 21. alone, lonely, whispering, hope, eternal, nostalgia
  22. 22. beast
  23. 23. beast, music, burn, precision, Kerouac, toil, power
  24. 24. calm, gentle, unknown, death, oblivion
  25. 25. The Poet and the Robot
  26. 26. Famous - Naomi Shihab Nye The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence,   which knew it would inherit the earth   before anybody said so.   The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   watching him from the birdhouse.   The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   The idea you carry close to your bosom   is famous to your bosom.   The boot is famous to the earth,   more famous than the dress shoe,   which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   I want to be famous to shuffling men   who smile while crossing streets,   sticky children in grocery lines,   famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   but because it never forgot what it could do.
  27. 27. Corey S. Pressman @cspressman @neologicpdx