Every age of humanity has questioned what makes us human. Plato suggested the definition to be two-legged animals without feathers, but he was probably half teasing. Whether it is the possession of a soul, the ability to reason, our capacity for empathy or our tool-making and technological skills, it’s hard to deny that the way we creatively abstract our world has something to do with our innate humanity. Yet, as we continue to get more technologically advanced, quantum computers and artificial intelligence might blur the definition of human even more. Below are original works by two poets: one is an algorithm and the other is a legend. Although you probably won’t be fooled about which authored which, you might be surprised by how comparable they are.

When I in dreams behold thy fairest shade
Whose shade in dreams doth wake the sleeping morn
The daytime shadow of my love betray’d
Lends hideous night to dreaming’s faded form
Were painted frowns to gild mere false rebuff
Then shoulds’t my heart be patient as the sands
For nature’s smile is ornament enough

When thy gold lips unloose their drooping bands
As clouds occlude the globe’s enshrouded fears
Which can by no astron’my be assail’d
Thus, thyne appearance tears in atmospheres
No fond perceptions nor no gaze unveils
Disperse the clouds which banish light from thee
For no tears be true, until we truly see

 

MIT PhD candidate J Nathan Matias used the Android app Swiftkey to computer generate sonnets that utilize some of Shakespeare’s famous words. Since this is machine-learning-assisted poetry, the process still needs human input of words but the final result is compiled by the app’s algorithm.

 

What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new:
Speak of the spring, and foison of the year,
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear;
And you in every blessed shape we know.
In all external grace you have some part,
But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

 

Sonnet LIII (sonnet 53) by William Shakespeare is widely regarded to delve into themes of sublime beauty of the beloved and the essence and extent of art’s power. It also taps Neo-Platonic metaphysics where all of our experiences are only a shadow of reality.