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Google's PoemPortraits Employs a Wordsmith AI to Write Poetry From a Single Word, Create Artistic Portraits

The AI’s poetic creations are occasionally deep, and sometimes outright dumb.

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Google's PoemPortraits Employs a Wordsmith AI to Write Poetry From a Single Word, Create Artistic Portraits

PoemPortraits is touted to be a confluence of machine learning, design, and poetry

  • PoemPortraits' poems contribute to a database of AI-generated poetry
  • One can skip the portrait creation process and only read the poetry
  • Users can also go through the entire database of poems in real-time

Artificial intelligence (AI), despite being able to process petabytes of data, has long been mocked for its inability to appreciate poetry and comprehend the true meaning behind literary pieces. Google plans to change that perception with an AI algorithm that can write poetry and then overlay it over a portrait (a selfie) with some beautiful artistic effects. Sounds too far-fetched? Well, the AI behind the Poem Portraits project by Google can create poetic lines weaved around a single word given by users, thanks to its exhaustive training process which involves going through millions of words and observing their usage in 19th-century works of literature.

Designer and artist, Es Devlin, wrote in an official blog post that PoemPortraits is a convergence of machine learning, design, and poetry. The AI algorithm behind the project has been trained using more than 25 million words written by 19th century poets to learn their appropriate usage and subsequently gain the ability to create original verses, albeit without the poetic flow that follows a definite pattern of words at the end of lines or specific intervals.

"It works a bit like predictive text: it doesn't copy or rework existing phrases, but uses its training material to build a complex statistical model. As a result, the algorithm generates original phrases emulating the style of what it's been trained on," Devlin writes. The PoemPortraits project was developed in collaboration with the Google Arts & Culture team.

How to use PoemPortraits

To get started, visit the PoemPortraits project page link, and follow the instructions. Tap the Begin button, and then enter a word in the dialogue box (the team calls it 'donating' a word). Once you click on Donate, you will be informed the AI is working on creating your poem, and then you'll need to click Continue. Users then have the choice of taking a selfie (you will need to provide the requisite authorisation or permission to use your device's camera), upon which the AI-generated poem is overlaid, or they can Skip this, and just get the poem text. They can then choose to save the portrait as a PNG file to share as they please. 

Aside from creating a snazzy portrait illuminated by the waves of words, the AI-generated poem will contribute to an evolving collective poem that can be read on the website in all its ephemeral glory, by clicking on Collective Poem.

PoemPortraits: Our thoughts

While Poem Portraits might sound like yet another AI throwing words at users, it is actually impressive to see an algorithm emulate the structure of poetry and the word selection prevalent in 19th century literature, by building a statistical model and then generating original poetic phrases. But is it actually that good? Well, Google says that some of the AI-generated poetry might sound deep and profound, while some of its works might simply be gibberish.

We tried the word ‘oblivion' and this is what the wordsmith AI behind Poem Portraits returned – ‘An oblivion. This infinite sound of the sun. This fair wave'. On trying something a little less gloomy word like ‘joy', here's what we got in return: ‘A joy which the sun drops down the sunset wall, your temporary charger could not have seen'. As is clearly evident, there is a long way to go for Poem Portraits' AI, but it is a commendable start nonetheless.


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