South Korea: an anthology of poems written by artificial intelligences sparks debate on artistic creation

A large anthology of poems entitled “Why write poems” has just been published. What makes it special? It was written by algorithms, i.e. by artificial intelligence.

It is a bookstore release that has caused a sensation in South Korea: the anthology Why Write Poems, written by an artificial intelligence, is causing a stir. In total, the book contains 53 poems of quite different styles. This literary work is the result of a collaboration between two companies: on the one hand, the company Kakao Brain, one of the subsidiaries of the Korean Internet giant Kakao and specialised in artificial intelligence applications. On the other hand, Slitscope, a group that produces art. Together they fed 13,000 poems, including classics of Korean literature, into a computer equipped with an artificial intelligence system.

Some stanzas of these poems that contained, for example, metaphors that were too complicated for the machine, were removed and therefore not added to its programs. After this little sorting, the algorithms started to create poems based on themes and keywords that were chosen by humans, either poets or even company employees.

80 haikus written by both humans and machines
To demonstrate the effectiveness of their system, the two companies decided to publish a real book. According to them, artificial intelligence will now be at the heart of artistic creation. Poems written by machines, animation clips made by artificial intelligence, and soon paintings and short novels made by algorithms.

In Japan, researchers at Kyoto University have just demonstrated that the general public is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the work of a machine and that of humans. They gave 80 haiku – short Japanese poems of 17 syllables – to the public to read. The batch included works written entirely by humans, others written in collaboration between humans and an artificial intelligence, and still others written by the machine alone. Readers were asked to rate each poem: haikus written 100% by humans and those written 100% by machines received the same rating.

The question of intellectual property
But there is still an ethical problem, especially for artists, writers and designers. Such a discovery also raises questions for the companies that create these new works, as they are faced with a very complex problem of intellectual property. Who legally owns these best-selling poems?

The poetry anthology that is published in bookshops belongs to the companies, but they cannot appropriate the copyright. Because at the moment, in Korea, and in most developed countries, you can’t give copyright to a machine or software. Especially if the machine has been inspired by real poems to write its own verses.