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Poetry by ChatGPT appraised

By Susan Guiver

Susan is a member of Milton Keynes Humanists

We asked ChatGPT to write a poem about humanism and artificial intelligence and here’s what it came up with:

Humanism and AI, a dance of two,

One born of flesh, the other, code and glue.

One seeks to help, to heal, to aid,

The other's power, in algorithms displayed.

Together they can change the world,

But care must be taken, for the future unfurled.

Humanism, a guide, a light, a way,

To lead AI's growth, in a humane way.

With empathy, compassion and a sense of right,

We can shape the future, with a clear insight.

AI, a tool, to make our lives better,

But let us ensure, it serves all, not just a fetter.

For it's not the machines, that must lead the way,

But the human spirit, that should have the say.

So let us work together, hand in hand,

To create a future, where humanity can stand.

With AI as a partner, not a master,

We can build a world, that is truly greater.

What are we to make of this machine-made poem? Here are some first thoughts from someone who likes reading poetry… My very first reaction is that it’s a remarkable pastiche! The ChatGPT software has been exposed to billions of documents, we are told, and you can see here the amount of past public verse that is being used in this version. Compare poems like Pope’s An Essay on Man, with its instruction to learn to know ourselves:

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;

The proper study of Mankind is Man.

Alexander Pope, Epistle II of 'An Essay on Man'

How interesting to see ChatGPT using similar heroic couplets, two/glue, aid/displayed, and so on for eight pairs. And then, at the end, there’s even a half-rhyme, master/greater, adding that slight note of discordance which poets employ to disrupt the previous pattern and so modify the otherwise reassuring tone of the regular rhyme. ‘We can build a world’, with its conditional verb, ‘can’, is only a hope, as even the half-rhyme suggests. So, it’s a clever use of the tools in its tool-kit.

The AI poem uses an appropriate vocabulary for public verse too, abstract nouns, like ‘future’, ‘humanism’, ‘power’, and ‘empathy’, and draws on well-known images, like ‘fetter’ (‘Man is born free but everywhere is in chains’, to quote the opening of The Social Contract, 1762, by Rousseau). However, ChatGPT has more to learn, I feel. And perhaps it will. For example, in this poem you can take a breath at the end of almost every line; the lines are end-stopped, an effect which can become limiting and sound very simplistic.

Pope and other classical masters use breaks in the middle of the line (a 'caesura') to run the meaning on over the end of the line, and thus disrupt the increasingly self-satisfied tone of regular end-stopped lines, as above. The AI poem does not follow the iambic pentameter of the classical model, showing that this is not a requirement of the algorithms used. Each one of Pope’s lines has 10 syllables but here, the line length varies. There’s a slightly clunky effect, for example, from, ‘Together they can change the world/But care must be taken, for the future unfurled’ (despite the attempt to use alliteration effectively).

However, I am struck by the values expressed in this poem and the importance attributed to the ‘human spirit’. And as a humanist, I am pleased to see that the software recognises this secular approach as ‘a guide, a light, a way/To lead AI’s growth’. It’s good to see such values associated with humanism. This is an amazing technological advance: truly, I don’t think one would know that this was machine-made. My comments reflect the kind of points I would have made if a fellow human had asked for my advice: 'Good attempt!'

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