COLUMN: The poetry of artificial intelligence

Sophisticated computer technology is nothing new, but until a few days ago, I hadn’t seen poetry written by an artificial intelligence chatbot.

The chatbot was ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence service launched less than a month ago, on Nov. 30, 2022. The website is chat.openai.com, and it is free to use.

I set up an account to see what this software could do.

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At first, I asked some basic questions, looking for factual answers. The responses were written in conversational English and they were clear. The only mistake I caught was when I asked for information about the Summerland Review newspaper.

The response said the newspaper was established in 1922, which is incorrect. The newspaper was first published Aug. 8, 1908.

Over time, the answers will get better, but right now, ChatGPT should be seen as a tool, not as a definitive information resource. The artificial intelligence behind this chatbot is still learning. Besides, when I was less than a month old, I couldn’t have given an accurate answer about when the Summerland Review started publishing.

While the conversational form of the answers impressed me, this service by itself would not be enough to hold my attention.

For years, Internet users have been going to search engines to find resources and links on a variety of topics.

I wanted a stronger test of the powers of this chatbot — something that would go beyond looking up information.

This is when I asked the chatbot to write me a sonnet about winter.

A sonnet is a highly structured poem, consisting of 14 lines. It is a complex and challenging form of poetry.

The Shakespearean sonnet structure contains three quatrains of four lines each, followed by a couplet. There are specific rhyme patterns, and each line is written in iambic pentameter, a 10-syllable pattern of rhythm. Another sonnet form consists of eight lines, followed by six lines, again following highly structured patterns of rhyme and rhythm.

After about a minute, the chatbot delivered with a sonnet in the Shakespearean structure.

Winter’s icy grip has seized the land,

The air is cold and crisp, the sky is gray.

The trees are bare and brittle, hand in hand

With frost that glimmers bright at break of day.

The fields lie fallow, waiting for the thaw,

As winter’s cloak wraps tight around the earth.

The fields lie fallow, waiting for the thaw,

As winter’s cloak wraps tight around the earth.

But though the days are short and dark and cold,

There is a beauty in this winter’s song.

The snow that falls so softly, pure and old,

Brings peace and solitude the whole year long.

So let the winter’s chill embrace us all,

And let its peace and quiet be our call.

This sonnet follows the theme I requested. It’s not a perfect work. For example, in the second quatrain, the first two lines simply repeat.

Still, the images of winter are present in this poem. Besides, I couldn’t have written a sonnet in one minute.

Poetry generated by ChatGPT and other similar pieces of software will not replace the work of William Shakespeare, nor will such works leave contemporary poets standing in unemployment lines.

At the same time, this software has the potential to bring about some changes in communication, especially as it improves.

After all, until a few days ago, I wouldn’t have imagined an artificial intelligence service could have written a poem.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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