A Microsoft chatbot composes poetry by looking at photographs

Image: Reuters
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The Romantic poets gazed upon the natural world and translated its splendor into poetry. Microsoft’s artificial intelligence does something similar, but uses a lot more computing power.

Microsoft’s conversational chatbot in China, XiaoIce, has generated 12 million poems during conversations with people, company researchers wrote in a paper last week. The trick to good AI poetry, the team writes, is taking inspiration from the real world.

Here’s a taste:

Wings hold rocks and water tightly

In the loneliness

Stroll the empty

The land becomes soft

Pretty deep, right? Here’s the image that the AI used to generate that poem.

Image for article titled A Microsoft chatbot composes poetry by looking at photographs
Image: Microsoft

The AI’s goal once it sees an image is to generate a certain amount of lines using keywords it associates with contents of the picture. It generates these keywords by analyzing the image with GoogleNet, an AI algorithm developed by Google, and then separate algorithms to build the poem’s phrases word by word. Those keywords could be words like”rocks” or “tree.”

The keywords act as starting points for the AI, which then generates associated words it had learned previously from a group of 2,027 modern Chinese poems it had read, to form sentences. An algorithm trained to detect “low-quality” sentences and poems, which might not match the image or have bad syntax, then weeds out bad lines and regenerates the offending line. It’s like the AI equivalent of crumbling up scratch paper and tossing it in the trash.

XiaoIce’s ability to generate poetry is just one aspect of the complete online personality that Microsoft is building for the bot. The company recently announced in addition to poetry and conversation, XiaoIce also has the capability to chat on the phone with users. It’s a lot like Google Duplex, the AI that can call businesses to make a reservation, but its goal is to have a conversation rather than accomplish a task.

Microsoft also published a book of its AI’s poetry last year, called Sunshine Misses Windows.