Bot Or Not Proves That Computers And Humans Both Suck At Poetry

There was a time when poetry was viewed as the highest literary art form in human history. It was for about five minutes a few centuries ago. Ever since, poetry is a lot like football: Many try, few are any good, fewer still are good enough to go pro. Not that this has stopped “sensitive” people around the world from trying to be poets, of course, but now they might have new competition in the doggerel stakes: Computers.

The basic idea of Bot or Not comes out of, what else, a graduate thesis: Oscar Schwartz is investigating whether or not computers can write poetry. Part of that thesis was developing a website that has humans analyze verse from computers and verse from humans to see if you can tell them apart.

It’s not really a question of quality, so much, because most of the poems are awful. Take this gem:

Never fled, and there to thought’s, my boast, without
One on a ring of men, three as finishing
Fate all bare sense of thee how hastily.
Oh may keep one thought of grave-damps o’er,

Some terrible 18th-century poet “revived” by a desperate grad student who needs a thesis subject? Nope. Computer.

Part of the fascinating of clicking through is discovering, first of all, that while some poems are pretty easy to spot, others are tough to call, and you’re not alone. Schwartz is using fairly standard “poetry generators” online to create these robotic poems, and yet most of the time, they turn out to be a coin flip for most people.

Secondly, man, people can write a lot of terrible poetry. A few of these will have you wondering if you’ve blundered into an open mic transcription by mistake. If you want to hone your skills and force Terminators to read you poetry to identify themselves, try your skills at Bot or Not.