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The Romance of AI Poetry
How can anything spat out by an automated process ever be romantic? How can something machined and commoditized hold sentimental value?
Many would say that it can’t. Yet, each year, a quarter of a billion roses are purchased on Valentine's Day. They weren’t grown or picked by those giving them – they were farmed en masse, bred for perfection.
The boxes of chocolates that often go with those roses are rarely home-made, or even hand-crafted by artisan chocolatiers – they are made by machines. And Valentine’s cards? A hollow gesture. Generic notes inside a prefabricated shell, with only a scintilla of sentimentality.
So what’s wrong with having ChatGPT write your love poems?
AI-generated love poems can’t kill romance because romance is already dead, sacrificed at the altar of mass production. Love is already commodified. Valentine’s Day is already the homogenous charade that AI critics fear it could become.
In fact, AI could rekindle the romance lost to modernity and overcommercialization.
Consider this: is there less romantic effort in writing a prompt for an AI love poem - full of personal details, in-jokes and shared dreams - than there is buying off-the-shelf roses or a box of chocolates? A unique image generated with AI could capture where you had your first kiss or where you first met. That’s surely sweeter than a mass-produced card. AI art and poetry could bring back creativity as a primary romantic gesture, letting those without the skills express their feelings creatively.
Hiring a poet or painter to immortalize the story of your romance is a highly romantic gesture - the instructions given to the artists an act of touching thoughtfulness. So why shouldn’t we think the same of AI?
Just because the medium lacks a comforting sense of nostalgia, doesn’t mean it should hold less romantic value. Today, receiving a typewritten love letter would be not only just as romantic, but perhaps even more charming than a handwritten one. Yet in the 1800s, it was the typewriter that was “killing romance” by creating the most “cold-blooded, mechanical, unromantic production imaginable".
One letter to an editor read: “A question has arisen in society as to whether it is good form to write one's love letters on a typewriter. Will you decide it?”.
The editor’s response was inspiring:
Love is love, and… its communications, at least to those who are suffering from it, cannot easily be made to appear ridiculous.
“Love”, he continued “uses the telephone, whispers at 50 cents a word to the Atlantic cable, and displays itself without fear or punctuation upon yellow telegraph blanks; why then should it hesitate in the presence of a typewriting machine?”.
Technology was already augmenting love then, and always has done — ever “since the ingenious Cadmus put the alphabet together”. As the editor noted:
Were it not for the sentimental glamour which the ages have permitted to gather about a pen, it is safe to say that this highly considered instrument would be quite the equal of the typewriter in its suggestion of coldness and formality.
Both the tools used to write and written language itself are technologies used to express love. So too is a typewriter. So too are language models.
“If he can do better with a typewriter than with a pen, wherein lies the objection to the typewriter?”, the editor asked. Like Generative AI, the typewriter helped people translate their feelings of love in ways they were unable to before.
He finishes with a prescient prediction: that pens and pencils may well give way to keyboards in future. “In the ages to come it may be that everybody will be able to manage the typewriter better than some people are able to manage it now”. In that world, what possible objection could there be to “the act of the expert lover who offers to unpack his crowded heart at the rate of 150 words a minute”?
Most people today consider language model love poetry lackadaisical, but times change. A century from now, it might be quaint and old-fashioned to have a language model compose a love poem.
Who knows what the world will look like then?
So, why object to the lover who offers to unpack his crowded heart at the rate of 150 prompts a minute? Love is magic and so is technology. They’re a match made in heaven.
NewArt officially launches in late February to explore the future and past of how technology changes the creative process.