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Author of the book, Jukka Aalho.

Picture by: Essi Aalho | Aum Golly

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‘Never-ending search for the snooze button’. Can AI replace humans in writing poetry?

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Justin Sau in Hong Kong, China

With the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) models, a debate has arisen whether AI-generated art holds any real value.

Some highlight the ability of AI algorithms to generate unique and innovative pieces that push the boundaries of traditional artistic forms; others propose that art is a product of human experiences and emotions with no place for computers.

AI-generated work is winning awards for art, photography and writing. The question is whether it will ever be able to master poetry?

Long considered one of the purest forms of human emotion and expression, will AI be able to produce works that resonate on a profoundly human level like poetry should?

This is where Aum Golly comes in. Aum Golly is a series of poetry books created almost entirely by AI, with Finnish author Jukka Aalho prompting the artificial intelligence models with leading questions.

The first instalment, Aum Golly, was written in 24 hours with the help of GPT-3 and published in 2021. The second instalment, Aum Golly 2, was written and illustrated in just 12 hours using ChatGPT and Midjourney and published in 2023.

The books are each divided into three chapters, each comprising one theme, also generated by ChatGPT. Interestingly, these themes tackled in this book are all deeply personal, such as ‘the need to be happy’, ‘the challenges and triumphs of love’, and ‘the human experience’.

Despite not reaching the same depth as regular poetry, there were fragments of genuine emotion and a few glimmers of understanding of the human experience – described by ChatGPT as ‘a never-ending search for the snooze button’.

Even the poems that felt more shallow in emotion were thought-provoking and imaginative:

‘So if you’re an alien, far from home
and stumble upon a caterpillar, all alone
take a moment to marvel at its grace
for it is a wonder of the insect race’

The accompanying illustrations were also AI-generated. I loved the gorgeous images, but began to understand the growing anxieties amongst graphic designers and artists about AI – what Midjourney produced in only a few hours was on par with what someone might take a few days or weeks to complete.

That said, it was a relief to see an apparent human element. Specifically, I felt that a great deal of the emotional depth would be absent without Jukka Aalho’s continually creative and inventive prompts such as ‘Describe the decomposition of a chewing gum from the viewpoint of an ancient Egyptian god’ or ‘Continue this train of thought: my tongue is a barren field’.

Line breaks are also an essential part of poetry, as they shape the musicality and cadence of the poem. The human element is also present here, as Aalho adds line breaks unconventionally to make even a mechanical response one that feels poetic. For example, she writes:

‘It is not possible for two math equations to have
a romantic relationship
as math equations
are abstract constructs
that do not possess the capacity
for emotions or relationships’

In my opinion, there is a large improvement in the quality of the generated text from book 1 to book 2, suggesting the vast improvements in AI over the course of only two years.

I felt there was too much human involvement in the first book. Some parts feel like there was quite a heavy presence in human editing. Though it was more reminiscent of real poetry, it didn’t feel authentically AI-generated, which defeated the point of the collection. One poem reads:

‘If there are 7 billion of us, how can I be special?
I’m a worthless piece of sh*t
what makes me think that I’m worth anything
I’m not good enough
I’m not pretty enough
I’m not strong enough’

Another possible explanation for this improvement in quality is that the prompts on the first one were more bizarre and eccentric. For example: ‘On the eve of the consummation of their friendship, Eve realised that she had never…’ or ‘If kites flew like boomerangs’.

The second book’s prompts usually involve the formula ‘write a poem about…’ or ‘continue this thought…’ It was more insistent on letting the AI do more of the work, and guiltily I found I preferred this ‘authentically-AI’ style of writing.

As someone who reads a fair amount of poetry, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for such a hallowed form of human expression.

It almost felt like a betrayal to even read — let alone enjoy — AI poetry. By purchasing and consuming these books, am I part of the problem?

On the other hand, I’ve begun to accept that AI is the future. There’s no other way to put it. We should embrace and explore the possibilities and unique qualities that AI poetry offers rather than demonise it. I, for one, am excited to read the next Aum Golly instalment, set to be released in 2025.

The famous novel and movie Dead Poets Society once proclaimed: “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.”

With its blend of human influence and technological innovation, AI-generated poetry adds a new dimension to our collective exploration of the human experience.

Written by:

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Justin Sau

Contributor

Hong Kong, China

Born in 2007, Justin studies in Hong Kong at HKIS. Fluent in English and Mandarin, Justin is interested in journalism, English literature, history, and sports.

For Harbinger’s Magazine, he writes on a range of different topics such as environmental issues and current events.

Edited by:

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Megan Lee

Culture Section Editor

Hong Kong | United Kingdom

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