Poetry for Robots

July 20, 2015 in Hieroglyph

We understand the world through metaphor. Our minds seek and spin patterns and connections, likenesses and equations. Biologist and anthropologist Gregory Bateson observed that metaphor is “how the whole fabric of mental interconnections holds together. Metaphor is right at the bottom of being alive.” As above, so below.

The most effective and explicit specimens of metaphor are found in poetry. Weaving metaphors into poems is an age-old and far-flung human act: we see and search the world with a poetic mind.

Why, then, do we search a simple online image bank with such literal terms? Because the robots haven’t been taught our poetry. What if we used poetry and metaphor as metadata? Would a search for “eyes” return images of stars? Will we learn that Jorge Luis Borges was right and metaphors present patterns of their own?

In 1989, scholar Norman Cousins published a piece called “The Poet and the Computer.” Anticipating the computer revolution at his doorstep, Cousins makes a plea: do not allow our machines to dehumanize us. And he offers a specific prescription against the potential malady: poetry.

“The danger,” he explains, is “not so much that man will be controlled by the computer as that he may imitate it.” Intimate and repeated communication with the robots may require us to conform our minds to their limited logics and cold calculations. To preserve and reinforce humanness, Cousins hypothesizes that “…it might be fruitful to effect some sort of junction between the computer technologist and the poet.”

A Poetry for Robots image, waiting for your poetic caption!

A Poetry for Robots image, waiting for your poetic caption!

At, we’re testing that junction. This “digital humanities experiment” is being conducted by Neologic Labs, Webvisions, and Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. The concept has wide traction; Poetry for Robots has been written about by such outlets as The Guardian, Vice, and The Poetry Foundation.

And we need data!  Please navigate to and pen a few lines for the robot!

Corey Pressman is the Director of Experience Strategy at Neologic, an agency and innovation lab that envisions, designs, and builds sustainable sites, apps, and other digital experiences. Corey taught anthropology at the college level for twelve years; he regularly publishes and delivers presentations on a variety of topics including the future of storytelling, interaction design, and global mobile initiatives.