Bios robotlab writing robot I have seen a number of articles in recent weeks on the topic of whether a computer could write a book. One software company has software that will automatically write newspaper articles on certain topics. A college business professor is working on software that  has already written 200,000 nonfiction books, half of which he has for sale on Amazon.

I haven’t yet seen an example of what these software programs produce, but I’m extremely skeptical of their quality.

Let’s do an experiment. Following are two poems. Each is a xenia epigram, a poetic form originally found in Latin literature. One was written by poet Luke Wright for the BBC. The other was written by a computer after being given instructions about the poetic form.

Can you tell which is which?

Here they are:

To Truth, by ??????

To truth I offer this thanks,
when needing something like reality
When I’m writing and drawing blanks,
I almost settle using actuality.

I am in search of more,
trying to sing your praise!
It’s you I very much adore,
lacking in so many ways.

To Felicity, by ??????

Felicity, my dear, my thanks
the cheque you sent was great.
Tomorrow I’ll go to the bank
my rent’s already late.

And sorry for the shoddy rhyme
I’m tired, I’m not on it,
perhaps if you send more next time
I’ll scribble you a sonnet.

Which was written by the computer and which by the human? Leave your guess in the comments. Don’t look at the other comments until you’re ready to make your guess.

Can Robots Write Poetry? Or Fiction?

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James Jensen
James Jensen

I’m guessing the first one was written by a computer, whereas the second was written by a human. I’m actually sort of impressed because the first stanza of the first poem almost seems like it’s making a profound tongue-in-cheek statement about how you can always fall back on Truth if you can’t think of something else to write. That would fit well coming from a writer for the BBC (Zing!). But then the poem devolves into something trite and unrelated. And throughout, it feels like it’s using words that don’t quite fit together, just to get the timing right. The… Read more »


I vote that the second one was written by Luke Wright. It sounds British to me! :)

Stephen A. Watkins

My guess is Felicity was written by a human. It has wit and humor, which I daresay a computer cannot yet mimic. The first one, “To Truth” feels mechanical and soulless to me, and doesn’t really have anything meaningful to say.


I’m hanging with my in-laws, and we all think it is the second due to its level of humor.



I vote for the second, too. At first I wasn’t sure what to think — I was expecting the computer to be obviously clunky somehow, and both were technically excellent — but the second has more than technique. The touch of humor, the idiomatic speech and slant-rhyme in the second stanza…and the way it’s both figurative and literal is brilliant.

If the second one is the computer’s poem, we’re all going to look nohow, aren’t we.


Alright, I don’t think we’re going to get anyone else voting on this. It looks like the voting was unanimous, and everyone was correct! Felicity was indeed written by a human and Truth by a computer. Artificial intelligence still has a ways to go, it appears.

Aaron Sloman

It was an interesting programme especially coming in the ‘Something Understood’ series. But the defenders of future robots (of which I am one) did not have enough time (or perhaps enough knowledge) to indicate how deep the challenges are. Humans are products of layers upon layers upon layers … of evolution, and I suspect that until we know far more about the intermediate layers (and the many discontinuous evolutionary changes — since they can’t all be smooth, continuous changes) we’ll only have machines with very limited and shallow capabilities. Moreover, it’s possible that digital computation is not rich enough and… Read more »

Aaron Sloman

Sorry: in my comment I left out an introduction saying that I had heard the two poems in John McCarthy’s presentation in ‘Something Understood’ , tonight.

I agree with the comments above about the differences between the two poems — but deciding took a bit of thought.