Finding the poetry in programming and
the algorithms in poems
By Margaret Rhee
larities and slippage bet ween the t wo—
poetry and AI—I hoped would frame
the collection and urge the exploration
of poetry, love, and AI. Without being
engaged with robots and technology
as a cultural history, my poetry would
have lacked the grounding and the lack
of imagination that AI theory, computer
science, and other fields could offer.
Graduate study is a time of deep
thinking, training, and development. It
is also a time for conversations. When I
reflect back on my graduate experience,
I fondly remember the importance of
conversations that are paradisciplinary.
Not only across the humanities and so-
cial sciences, but the sciences as well.
Not conversations that begin by talking,
but with questions. Not the performance
of knowledge, but perhaps the opposite.
The desire to develop by engaging.
As the poet William Carlos Williams writes, “A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words” [ 1]. The intersection of poetry with machines is provoking on interaction. The conversation, as ephemeral as it may be, is a human-human interaction also conducive to consider. As we contemplate how technology informs
human-human interactions, it may be useful to reflect on human-human interaction and
engagement with literature, namely with words. The cybernectics of these kinds of relations
never stops short of being astonishing.
I write science fictional poetry about
robots, and my first poetry book Love,
Robot was published this fall [ 2]. Writing
about robots poetically sprung from a
conversation when I was a graduate student. At the time, I worked with several
roboticist-artists, namely Ken Goldberg
who served on my dissertation committee. I also worked with Eric Paulos
on tangible media. While my scholarly
work centers on culture and difference
as an analytical and historical project,
their work and others in robotics and
computer science opened up my artistic
explorations. Currently, I am a visiting
assistant professor in media study. As
someone studying media and literature, I cannot ignore the current digital
age as a societal phenomenon.
Philosophically, I am interested in
how robots teach us what it means to
be human. The robot offers us so many
questions to grapple with, in our urgen-
cy for humanity, compassion, empathy,
and justice. Could we think of robots as
entities that evoke more compassionate
characteristics than humans? Could we
think of robots as object-choices of de-
sire, or more compassionate lovers?
Research then inspired my poetry.
For example, my poetry on robot love
draws upon Alan Turing’s question,
“Can machines think?” As a poet, I
switched the “think” to “love.” In addition, there is the question of the sonnet and artificial intelligence (AI) that
Turing poses. Could a machine write
poetry? Would it then prove humanity?
On the other hand, I was researching
poetics and learned about how we can
think of poetic forms, such as the sonnet, as machines. The uncanny simi-