Are robots more poetic than humans?
That was my question when I saw Alandra Markman sitting on the sidewalk with an old typewriter on a recent brisk Sunday morning at the West Seattle Farmers Market.
For the past 15 years, Markman has written original poems on-demand for public passers-by and at private events. “Poetry by request” is written on the sign attached to his small wooden table.
Creating poetry and musical lyrics is a common use case for ChatGPT, OpenAI’s popular chatbot that uses natural language technology to respond to queries and produce content on the fly. OpenAI this week released GPT-4, the latest and more advanced version of ChatGPT that is said to be better at creating poems.
Before I asked him to write a poem — and gave the same prompt to the robots — I chatted with Markman about the rise of chatbots and the potential impact on poets like him. He is not concerned about robots coming for his work.
“Artificial intelligence can very strongly mirror the creative power of organic intelligence. It can give us new meetings that seem very creative,” he said. “But that’s still not creativity.”
The debate over whether AI is creative or not is heating up as technology improves and becomes more and more part of everyday life.
The winning prize from last year’s Colorado State Fair art contest went to an entry from the AI program Midjourney — and it sparked a huge response. Generative AI systems also raise new legal questions for content creation.
There’s a level of personalization and “true intimacy” that comes from a human poet, Markman said.
But he is not against AI. Markman uses AI image generators to stimulate creativity for his visual art.
“I’m not worried about competition or having my creative process stolen,” he said. “I think more information just enriches us all.”
I spent a few minutes telling Markman about our dogs, Rose and Ichi. He immersed himself in the story and spent the next few minutes creating a poem.
I later gave the same prompt, in written form, to ChatGPT:
Please write a poem about our dogs, Ichi and Rose. Ichi is a 3 year old chocolate labrador. Ichi is named after the famous baseball player, Ichiro Suzuki. Rose is a 16-year-old Yorkie-Poo. Rose survived a wildfire and we adopted her two years ago. The dogs live together, with us. They don’t play together much, but they enjoy each other’s company. Ichi likes to watch Rose eat and clean up her leftovers. We love the dogs very much and cherish what they bring to our lives.
I also tried giving it to Microsoft’s new Bing chatbot, as well as the new GPT-4.
This is what Markman came up with.
conference of the dogs
(for ichi & rose.) (& co.)
if you falter, i’ll be there too,
my friend, my real life, so many distractions
can span a lifetime
where one never arrives,
but you protect us from that,
serve us by forcing points.
alone in the heath,
together in the barn,
we learn better
than waiting for a reward,
relying on deeper continuity.
my soul from its dissociation
and frequent the meetings
of those who are awake
enough to take care of strangers.
Here’s what OpenAI’s ChatGPT came up with:
Ichi and Rose, our furry friends
Bring joy and love that never ends
Ichi, a chocolate Labrador so strong
Named after a legend who played baseball for a long time
Rose, a Yorkie-Poo who has gone through fire
Adopted by us, she is our heart’s desire
Despite their age and size so different
Together they share a bond that is so consistent
Ichi watches Rose as she eats
And cleans up her leftovers, what a treat
They may not play together every day
But their company brings us joy in every way
Their wagging tails and friendly licks
Fill our hearts with love that picks up quickly
Our moods up from the lowest low
Ichi and Rose, our dogs, we cherish so much
Thank you, our furry friends, for all you do
We promise to love and take care of you
Until the end of time our hearts intertwine
Ichi and Rose, will shine in our lives forever
Here’s what Bing’s chatbot — which is powered by GPT-4 — produced:
Two dogs of different breeds and ages
Share a home and the love of a family
Ichi is a chocolate lab with energy and grace
Named after a baseball star batting above
Rose is a yorkie poo with wisdom and courage
She survived a forest fire and found a new place
She doesn’t play much, but she enjoys Ichi’s company
He watches her eat and tidy up her space
It’s our furry friends that brighten up our days
They make us laugh and smile with their antics and their manners
We love them very much and cherish what they bring
Ichi and Rose are our dogs, they are our everything.
And finally, here’s what GPT-4 gave me this week:
In the realm of tails and paws dwell two hearts,
Ichi and Rose, our joy and pride.
Side by side in our abode,
A story about friendship and love.
Ichi, the Lab, a chocolate shade,
A name inspired by Ichiro, that’s right.
Three years young, he jumps and jumps,
A faithful companion, our love he keeps.
Rose, the Yorkie-Poo, small and sweet,
A wildfire survivor, full of courage.
Sixteen years of life, a story untold,
In the arms of our family, we hold her heart.
They share a home, a serene love,
No playful jokes, but an unseen band.
Ichi, the guardian, watches the rose festival,
Hoping for leftovers, a dog treat.
Together they stand, a duo so rare,
A proof of love and care.
Every day they make us laugh and cheer,
Our precious puppies, forever close by.
So let’s celebrate this dog couple,
Ichi and Rose, second to none.
Through thick and thin, their unwavering love,
Our lives enriched, their presence, a blessing.
So who wrote the better poem? Personally, I was most impressed with GPT-4, although I liked some of Markman’s more nuanced rules. Let me know Twitter.