What do Robots feel?

Poetry has a deep and meaningful backdrop. Literature and word romanticism took shape in Sumerian culture during third millennium BC. Poetry has always carried powerful expression. It’s a way in which poets connect rhythmic qualities of language with feelings. Early poetry influenced folks songs, speeches and theatrical performances. Yet today, a computer has enough depth to write a sonnet. Does this mean that a piece of technology can express human emotion?

-By Leyla Ok

Poetry is not just about rhyming words. It’s a piece of literature that allows writers to express feelings and ideas with intensity and a deeper level of integral feeling. Thus, there is a distinctive style to every poem. It holds a unique voice and rhythm, which makes it raw and personal.

If a computer (or robot) can compose a piece of poetry by impersonating human emotion, does this mean that it can feel and understand complexities like; affection, anger, concern and desire? Moreover, can it learn it or understand the meanings in the same context as humans?

Machine Learning Software

A while back, The Daily Mail reported about a robot designed by Swiftkey which is a machine learning software. This ‘Robot’ can write a sonnet once it has studied William Shakespeare’s work.

We all know that attributes like learning and writing are human characteristics, yet a machine can evidently do the same.

Undoubtedly, technology has taken over our lives. They assist us in all aspects of modern life. From taking phone calls to making toast, we use technology for almost everything. Some machines are built to take commands and learn in specialised domains, others are simply there to assist you practically on a daily basis. The point is, our technology is becoming more than passive tools.

Exponential Growth

Much of our scientific and experimental research can track and measure the advances of information technology. It clearly projects that; performance (in relation to price, but not defined by) doubles on average every (+-) 18 months.

As the rate of our technological advances continues to accelerate, the future also accelerates faster than we traditionally would expect. We’ve come to a point, where we don’t even feel the change- yet it’s clearly happening.

“If you look at the implications of exponential growth, it creates a very different picture of the future and it’s not intuitive,” –says Ray Kurzweil back in 2001.

Problems that may seem unmanageable now, could become solvable in the near future -implying that it will become intuitive. And now we can confirm that it is.

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Voice commands

Over time, technology has evolved immensely thanks to artificial intelligence. With developments and breakthroughs happening all the time, machines have moved from being passive tools to being an integral and augmented part of our very being.

The power of thought and logic can be found in much of technological programming. For example, iPhone’s intelligent assistant Siri speaks with natural language and understands voice commands. And, in the future the more you use your robot assistant, the more aware of your likes, interest and routine it will be. Therefore, the more reliable and accurate it will be in assisting you.

Maurice Conti (2016, Ted Talk) already welcomed us to the ‘Augmented Age’, to which he stated:

“In this new era, your natural human capabilities are going to be augmented by computational systems that help you think, robotic systems that help you make, and a digital nervous system that connects you to the world far beyond your natural senses.”


William Shakespeare

“The world renowned playwright: William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

A developer created a machine-learning algorithm called ‘Fluency’. It’s capable of producing sonnets just like the greatest writers of all time: William Shakespeare (1570’s playwright). This machine taps into an Andriod users syntax, and style of writing. And as a result, the machine composes sonnets all by itself. This means there is still the human influence on how the poems are produced.

Mr Matias, a writer who has tried the Fluency software stated:

‘As we might expect from artificial intelligence, the result is full of mixed metaphors’

Therefore, could we assume that mixed metaphors are an indication that the machine is unable to make sense of the literature it produces?

‘Bot or Not’?

The ‘Bot or Not’ website challenges users with a game. It tests whether or not we can distinguish if a poem was written by a computer or human.

Described as the ‘Turing test for poetry’- once you’ve selected your answer, it reveals the results immediately. It will tell you if the poem was written by a robot or a real poet.

 www.botpoet.com by visiting the website you can take-part! Can you spot the difference?

www.botpoet.com by visiting the website you can take part! Can you spot the difference?

For those who may not know, the Turing test was developed by Alan Turing in 1950. The objective was to see if a machine can display intelligent behaviour (which we now know is possible today).

The test was about natural language conversation made between a computer and human, conducting messages from separate rooms. If the computer was able to convince the human of its real-life language capabilities and form logical responses. Then, the machine was deemed as being able to “think”.

Literature and thought

An example of how a Turing test is carried out.

Besides, our thoughts are our memories. It’s a bank of learnt information allowing us to be exactly who we are. Moreover, we mould our very existence with learnt information.

For instance, thinking (or being) is something only living organisms are cable of. But, perhaps being programmed with information is a common ground we share with computers.

To summarise, technology is made in the image of man. In the same way, Holy scriptures suggest that Humanity was made in the image of God.

Are humans playing God?

I think, therefore I am

One of the founding fathers of Philosophy Descartes (1637) coined the well known latin proposition

“Cogito Ergo Sum.” I think, therefore I am.

Thus, this proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy and allowed big thinkers to form a secure foundation for knowledge in the face of radical doubt (the proof from sciences).

One of the founding fathers of Philosophy, Descartes (1596-1650)

One of the founding fathers of Philosophy, Descartes (1596-1650)

While, knowledge or thoughts have the potential of being a figment of our imagination, deception or mistake. Descartes believed that the very act of doubting (one’s own existence) is proof of the reality of one’s own mind; there must be a thinking entity (the self) for there to be a thought.

Therefore, is a computer capable of doubting? Is it capable of realising itself? The answer is, Yes. Now, robots are being made to be “self-aware”.

Industrial robot

Lerrel Pinto and Abhinav Gupta at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have equipped a robot called Baxter with powerful deep learning capabilities. They placed a table full of ordinary objects in front of it and then left it to learn, like a baby playing in a high chair.

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Baxter is a modern two-armed industrial robot designed to perform repeatable tasks in environments such as factory floors. Also, each arm has a standard two fingered parallel gripper and a high-resolution camera to allow the robot to see what it’s grasping close up. It also has a Microsoft Kinect sensor to provide an overview of the table in front of it.

Pinto and Gupta programmed Baxter to grasp an object by isolating it from its neighbours, then to pick a random point in that area, rotate the grippers to a certain angle and then move the grippers down vertically to attempt a grasp.

To allow the robot to learn, Pinto and Gupta placed different objects on the table in front of Baxter and simply left the robot to figure it out for 10 hours a day, without any human intervention. In brief, if the robot dropped an object on the floor, there were plenty of others it could continue with. Surely, this implies that the robot is able to make sense of what it is doing by learning it.

Movie examples

In over 700 hours, Baxter performed some 50,000 grasps on 150 different objects. And, each time it was learning whether the approach was successful or not. These objects included a TV remote, a variety of plastic toys such as guns, cars, and so on, and other similarly sized objects. All of a sudden the film Chappie (2015) comes to mind!

Consequently, this process produced a significant body of learning which allowed Baxter to predict whether or not a grasp would be successful almost 80 percent of the time. At the rate robots like Baxter are learning, it won’t be long before computers take over and beat us at everything, like Chess.


Do you recall Deep Blue? The chess-playing computer developed by IBM. It is known for being the first piece of artificial intelligence to win both a chess game and a chess match against a reigning world champion under regular time controls.

The image below is from the 1997 Chess Match, whereby IBM Deep Blue beats Garry Kasparov, marking the first time a computer had defeated a reigning world champion in a traditional match. Kasparov resigned after 19 moves.

chessPoetry is not chess, it has nothing to do with complex numbers, formulated manoeuvres or calculated steps. Poetry is a different ability entirely, which is being tested in robots. It’s not numbers but words that are representative of true human understanding and if a robot can crack this- surely it can be deemed as alive?


A test conducted by Zachary Scholl in 2010, resulted in a poem passing the Turing test. Also, the poem (which can be seen below) is very symbolic and full of metaphors also, anyone would assume it was a human creation, yet it was written by a computer algorithm and nobody could tell.

A home transformed by the lightning

the balanced alcoves smother

this insatiable earth of a planet, Earth.

They attacked it with mechanical horns

because they love you, love, in fire and wind.

You say, what is the time waiting for in its spring?

I tell you it is waiting for your branch that flows

because you are a sweet-smelling diamond architecture

that does not know why it grows.

-Composed by a computer (2010)

When you look closely at the text, it’s hard to accept that it’s not human. There is evidently more to A.I than what meets the eye, it has a depth that is oddly remarkable. Therefore, the ability to use logic better, faster and more accurately than humans simply suggests that a computer has a purpose- to exceed with information and eliminate human error

2000 BC

Clay Tablet with poetry inscribed from the Epic of Gilgamesh

Clay Tablet with poetry inscribed from the Epic of Gilgamesh

For example, if we look at early poetry the oldest surviving epic Mesopotamian poem is; the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written as a scripture on clay tablets dating back to 2000 BC. It describes historical events symbolically and is considered the world’s oldest love poetry.

A section of these tablets described in poetic terms how the characters Gilgamesh and Enkidu steal trees from a distant cedar forest forbidden to mortals. A terrifying demon named Humbaba, who is a devoted servant of Enlil the god of earth, wind and air, and guards it. The two heroes make the long journey to the forest and standing side by side, fight with the monster.


With assistance from Shamash the sun god, they kill the monster. Then they cut down the forbidden trees and turn them into an enormous gate, make the rest into a raft, and float on it, back to their home. Upon their return, Ishtar the goddess of love is overcome with lust for Gilgamesh.

In addition, these tablets tell a historical story in unique style. And, if we compare the computer generated poem with a section from the Epic of Gilgamesh– there are overwhelming similarities with regards to storytelling, like how both poems use nature, life, death, desire and the environment to tell a story. What does this imply? However, could we assume that computer intelligence (A.I.) is significantly parallel to humans?

Robot journalist

There are robot journalists created by North Carolina Automated Insights’ technology company. Namely, they’re already being used by companies like ‘Associated Press’ and ‘Yahoo’ to automatically generate data-heavy reports like quarterly earnings and so forth.

Wordsmith is another platform designed to automatically generate natural language articles based on large sets of data. Within each project (defined by the data set and uploaded as a CSV file), you can create multiple “narratives,” which is in a sense a high-powered word substitution game. It writes the basic structure, swapping keywords for the variables available, and then adds logic.

Complex analysis

In short, robot journalism has the potential of putting many writers out of work. James Kotecki manager of media and public relations stated: The best way to think of Wordsmith, is as an assistant reporter. It handles the legwork, the boring facts and figures, to which human reporters can add complex analysis and colour.

Ethical technology

“The computer handles the who, what, where and when,” he explains, paraphrasing a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina. “And humans are freed up to ask why and how.”

For instance, Hank Pellissier a writer of Ethical Technology touched on a sensitive subject about robot slavery. He suggested that Slaves will do in the future what slaves do today. Therefore, what slaves have always done in the past.

Pellissier explains:

Robot obeys. It does what human Master wants.  The robot is a Slave. Androids today are quite “primitive” – they don’t look convincingly “human” – not yet. But soon, they’ll be indistinguishable from us…. except… they’ll be 100% compliant… devoted to our wishes… Slavery Will Return.  Sure, they’re “just robots” – but with millions of them bustling around obeying our barking orders…”

Poetry composition

But, if a robot is programmed to take commands, and has other abilities like being able to conversate, write poetry and play games- surely it’s an entity that deserves respect?

In conclusion, computers can do all those things! We have seen throughout this article the proof of robots composing poetry, formulating reports, writing articles, playing Chess and so forth. So, what will this mean for society?


All of a sudden, the film Chappie (2015) comes to mind! Chappie is a futuristic film with a plot that will make you feel the emotional sentiment for a robot. The movie is set in coming years. Police patrol attempt to control lawbreakers that are retaliating.

Chappie A thinking Robot. (2015)

The film displays a problematic society that is leading to chaos after a police drone is stolen and reprogrammed. Chappie is the robot that develops the ability to feel and think for “himself”.

However, this innocently portrayed robot is deemed to be a danger to the order in society so Chappie becomes a target to end the last of his kind.

In conclusion…

ISAAC ASIMOV, Astounding Science Fiction, Mar. 1942

The danger of the future is that men may become robots. True enough, robots do not rebel. But given man’s nature, robots cannot live and remain sane, they become “Golems,” they will destroy their world and themselves because they cannot stand any longer the boredom of a meaningless life.


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