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A Borges-Inspired Project Teaches Robots to Appreciate Poetry


Poetry4Robots is the site where a wonderful exercise of cybernetic literature takes place.

Jorge Luis Borges without a doubt had ideas that were ahead of his time: the creation of worlds, languages and electronic gadgets that produced texts by themselves were some of his interests, such as that fabulous notion that an infinite number of typing monkeys would end up typing, if given enough time, Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha.

The Poetry4Robots website has decided to bring to the digital world Borges’ ideas regarding the metaphor that, within the many ways it can be defined, is the fusion of various meanings in a sole meaning, such as when we say there is a metaphorical connection between “stars” and “eyes.” The project seeks to find out whether computers are capable of understanding the poetic qualities of human language.

Created as a joint effort by Neologic, Webvisions and The Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, the site stems from a question: What would happen if we used poetry and metaphors as metadata? In other words, is it possible to create a search engine that, when you type in the word ‘eyes,’ throws up photographs of stars?

The site gathers together poems of 150 characters or fewer through crowdsourcing, and which must respond to a small image bank contained on the site: the ocean, an urban landscape, a café, the view from a forest (there are 117 in total); it will then teach machines to identify the poetic qualities of the discourse and associate them with the photographs.

A future in which computers write and are capable of appreciating poetry is a Borgesian idea. But metaphors and ideas about poetry change over time and develop with readers’ traditions and, above all, are generated via the emotional associations on behalf of poets and readers of poetry. How can the human element be removed from the most essential of human language?

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