New Jorge Luis Borges-Inspired Project Will Test Whether Robots Can Appreciate Poetry

Jorge Luis Borges, as any read­er of his sto­ries knows, had a lot of ideas. Some of his ideas must have seemed pret­ty fan­tas­ti­cal when he wrote sto­ries around them from the 1920s to the 1950s. But their myth­ic qual­i­ties have made them endure, and now Borges’ imag­i­na­tive, tech­nol­o­gy-rich 21st-cen­tu­ry fans have start­ed to put their philo­soph­i­cal spec­u­la­tions into prac­tice: you may remem­ber, for instance, the online Library of Babel, ulti­mate­ly to con­tain every pos­si­ble 410-page book, which we fea­tured in April.

borges robot poetry

Borges also came up with intrigu­ing and then-untestable notions about, in the words of Vice’s Daniel Ober­haus, “the impor­tance of metaphor and its lim­it­less pos­si­bil­i­ties in lan­guage. Borges the­o­rized [lis­ten above] that despite these bound­less pos­si­bil­i­ties for poet­ic lan­guage, there were nev­er­the­less dis­tinct pat­terns of metaphors that kept crop­ping up — a favorite exam­ple of his being the metaphor­i­cal equiv­a­lence of ‘stars’ and ‘eyes.’ ” Now a site called Poet­ry for Robots, a joint effort between Neo­log­ic, Web­vi­sions, and The Cen­ter for Sci­ence and the Imag­i­na­tion at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty, “seeks to put Borges’ the­o­ry to the test, ask­ing on their web­site whether it is pos­si­ble to teach machines the poet­ic qual­i­ty of human lan­guage.”

Poetry Robot

“What if we used poet­ry and metaphor as meta­da­ta?” asks Poet­ry for Robots’ front page. “Would a search for ‘eyes’ return images of stars?” To find out, the site has begun crowd­sourc­ing poet­ry from its users, who they’ve asked to sub­mit pieces of verse (150 char­ac­ters or few­er) prompt­ed by a series of images post­ed there: you can write your poet­ry in response to the open oceanan urban land­scapea cap­puc­ci­no, paths diverg­ing in a wood, or 117 oth­er actu­al images meant to draw out tex­tu­al imagery.

Then comes the test: can com­put­ers learn to make the same poet­ic asso­ci­a­tions humans do between word and image, image and word? If the Bor­ge­sian vision of metaphors exist­ing in pat­terns holds true, then they will — com­put­ers per­form few tasks bet­ter than pat­tern recog­ni­tion, after all. This could lead not just to, say, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence that can com­pose and even appre­ci­ate poet­ry, but poet­ic-lan­guage search engines —  a deeply artis­tic exten­sion of the seem­ing­ly frus­trat­ed nat­ur­al-lan­guage search engine efforts pio­neered by the likes of Ask Jeeves.

And if none of that works out, we’ll still have wit­nessed a fas­ci­nat­ing thought exper­i­ment, just like Borges’ sto­ries them­selves. The writer’s orig­i­nal thoughts on the sub­ject will cer­tain­ly remain com­pelling, and you can hear them in his 1967–8 Har­vard lec­tures on poet­ry (from where the clip above came) that we first fea­tured here a few years back. Who knows — they might even give lit­er­a­ture-inclined com­put­er sci­ence stu­dents, or com­put­er sci­ence-inclined lit­er­a­ture stu­dents, the idea for their next big project.

via Vice

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967–8 Nor­ton Lec­tures On Poet­ry (And Every­thing Else Lit­er­ary)

Vis­it The Online Library of Babel: New Web Site Turns Borges’ “Library of Babel” Into a Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty

Jorge Luis Borges Selects 74 Books for Your Per­son­al Library

Borges: Pro­file of a Writer” Presents the Life and Writ­ings of Argentina’s Favorite Son, Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967–8 Nor­ton Lec­tures On Poet­ry (And Every­thing Else Lit­er­ary)

Jorge Luis Borges’ Favorite Short Sto­ries (Read 7 Free Online)

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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