Lydia Webb’s new satirical piece in Liberty Voice is titled “Robots Have Killed Everything.” Webb argues the establishment of new field of “robopoetics” is a key indicator of a sea change in human development and marks the ascendancy of robots and beginning of the end for humanity.
The emergence of robopoetics
If you think of a poem as an algorithm, then robots/computers writing poems makes perfect sense. A poem is, after all, just structured verse, right? Furthermore, all poets write poetry based on reference to the poetry of other poets, so why shouldn’t robots be able to analyze past examples and write new poetry using a poetry “algorithm”? It all makes perfect sense when you really think about it. Writing poetry is simply the next step in the evolution of computers/robots.
Technology as a double-edged sword
Webb points out that technology is supposed to make it easier for human to do things, but it’s not supposed to do human things better than humans. Robots that can write truly moving, truly human poetry crosses a psychological line we all know is there, but few consciously thought about until now.
Webb explains this dynamic below, but reminds us that, robopoetics nothwithstanding, there are lots of things humans do that robots cannot:
“But robots threaten that ideal by being better at everything than humans are. Anything smart at least. They haven’t quite figured out how to make a robot drive, or open a door, or not look like a robot. Yet, the robotics skeptics will think to themselves as they look down at their analog watches (the ticking kind that can’t answer your phone or send a text message) despite the fact that everyone else seems to pull their phone out of their pockets to check the time. In fact, there are just a lot of things that robots can’t do yet. They have a long way to go before they replace humanity in most areas.”
In concluding her essay, Webb makes the point that “everyone wanted to believe that poetry and literature were safe forever.” That would always be what made people different from robots, and why we would always be “better” than them. But if robots can make semiconductor chips at 100 times the speed of humans, rescue children from a burning house, beat the best human chess players and write poetry like Robert Frost, just who’s really going to believe humans are better?