An Automaton's Works of Art: Poems by the Shore

Khryss | Published 2017-07-23 22:17

"Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for." -John Keating, Dead Poets Society.

But what if we could combine both? Using technology to create poems? Sounds like best of both worlds? Well, let me introduce to you the “Poet on the Shore”, a creation of Yuxi Liu, a masters student in design informatics at the University of Edinburgh.

When we write poems, speeches, paintings, or even music, we gather information around us to make up the themes of those art--the breeze of the forest, the laughs of people, and even the serenity of silence. But how would you feel if this robot does exactly that?

It’s called a “Poet on the Shore” because, well, it writes poems on the shore. (Lol.) The robot roams around the beach seeking inputs from around it, the motion of the waves, the sound of human voices, and even the breeze. It then translates these inputs into readable poetry that it writes on the sand like how you write words on it with a stick (but with a better penmaship).

"I would argue that we should change our perspectives of machines, since they are not merely a projection of humans," Liu writes in her thesis. "Instead, they can mediate and judge, and they also have rights." Her robot was inspired by the work of Dutch artist Theo Jansen, the STRANDBEEST which are wind sculptures made of PVC seems to move on its own without the use of a battery. It only harnesses the power of the wind to move.

Similar to Jansen’s work, Liu’s poetic robot is a part of an artistic environment that seeks to change the way we think about technological machines. These machines show the philosophies of object-oriented ontology and actor-network theory that aims to see humans and non-human objects equally.

Although Liu made the robot using 3D printers and laser cutters, armed with sensors to measure wind speed and temperature, Poet on the Shore isn’t quite autonomous...for now. Liu told Motherboard that the robot still relies on preprogramming as she finds ways to fully implement natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to the bot.

"'Poet on the Shore' is an attempt to challenge the anthropocentric assumption regarding machines by demonstrating the machine's poetic sensitivity," she writes in her thesis. "The robot intervenes in the world. These interventions, expressed through the kinetic and poetic gestures, reveal its non-utilitarian existence: the verse it writes will eventually be washed away by the waves or winds."

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