Opinion: Machine-made poetry is here NPR's Scott Simon talks about ChatGPT, a new AI fueled chatbot that generates poetry, essays, etc. But can its cliches elicit wonder, like these mellifluous words right here?

Opinion: Machine-made poetry is here

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1142045405/1142074822" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


More than a million people have reportedly tried out ChatGPT, a new chatbot from the research lab OpenAI - AI for artificial intelligence. Users can ask it questions or submit prompts for poems, term papers or essays. It makes mistakes, Calum Chace, the author and expert on AI, told us, and plagiarized us from the internet.

The speed and quality is remarkable. Antiplagiarism software packages are already hard-pressed. Their work probably just became impossible. I asked ChatGPT to write a poem about childhood. Within seconds, it sent back these lines - childhood, a time of wonders, a time of joy and fun - and went on to invoke trees, mud pies, innocence and the sound of cicadas. What, no puppies?

Katha Pollitt, one of America's great poets and critics, read that poem and told, us cliched and tiresome. I don't think Auden has to worry about his laurels.

I then asked ChatGPT to conjure a verse about bagels in the style of William Shakespeare. Tis a bagel, a round delight, the chatbot burped back, a breakfast treat to make us bright, a crisp, chewy texture to please, a sprinkle of sesame for ease. It went on to speak of cream, but not cream cheese. I asked the bot for bagel poems in the styles of W.H. Auden and Emily Dickinson. It flashed out highly similar verses that simply removed the Shakespearean 'tis from the first line.

Katha Pollitt wasn't impressed. No wordplay or anything to think about, she told us. They're a collection of cliches - which is not surprising. The bot has not had any experiences or emotions and no imagination. It has no sense of the multiple meanings and resonances of words. So how could it write a good poem?

It is inviting to end with that critical slam-dunk from a great poet to dismiss chatbots that write, draw or soon, I'm sure, talk like a radio host. But Calum Chace cautions that artificial intelligence software will keep learning. It has no human experiences, but also no human foibles, like exhaustion, distraction, anxiety or forgetfulness. Humans may soon become, he says, quote, "the second-smartest species on the planet. It will be the most important event in human history, bar none. The outcome may well be fabulous for humanity, but that is not guaranteed."

So be courteous to bots. Maybe they'll remember us kindly when their day arrives.


Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.