Can You Tell the Difference Between Poetry Written by a Computer and a Human?

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
February 14, 2014

Who wrote the poem “Eat When You Feel Sad”? (Opening line: “Robert is looking at pictures of shower filters on the internet.”)

What about “Cocaine”? (It begins: “a phoenix rising / from an extremely incriminating photo of us …”)  

I’ll tell you after the next paragraph, but before you respond, you should know that the correct answer may not involve a who, but a what. Bot or Not is a “Turing test for poetry,” testing your ability to sort poems written by humans such as Hart Crane, Gertrude Stein and Robert Frost, from poems “written” by various bots or other computer-generated scenarios.

The site takes the form of an interactive quiz, and it’s pretty fun. You’re presented with a poem, and you make your choice; you then find out whether you got it right — and the percentage of other quiz-takers who voted bot or not. For me, at least, it wasn’t easy.

The answers? “Eat When You Feel Sad” was “written by the human Zachary German.”

“Cocaine” was “generated with software called That Can Be My Next Tweet. It takes the collected tweets of a twitter user, selects from their corpus at random, and regenerates as a new tweet.”

You can test your own poetry skills, differentiating Derek Walcott from Derek Wal-bot, here

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