Robocoded is working with Maya Angelou to make a poet-bot

Ordinary humans can write some poetry. Celebrities write other famous things. But if you step away from reality and go in another direction, a machine can write one of those poems, too.

Robocoded, a Los Angeles-based startup that’s trying to become the machine editor of the future, is teaming up with the most famous poet in the English language, Maya Angelou, to help developers make a robot that could turn its human controller’s copy of a poem or story into something great.

Robocoded started as a project between Manoush Zomorodi, the founder and chief technology officer of the startup and Brian Van Bruggen, an independent developer. Although they didn’t always see eye to eye, the two started working together and eventually became friends.

Van Bruggen wants to help the machine learn how to do great thing. He’s known a lot of the great illustrators and poets out there. Not writing poetry is a way of making sure the system learns by copying great works of creativity.

“The problem is that computers can’t do anything based on input from human experts,” Van Bruggen said. “Artistically, they will make something that’s really good and really bad, but you cannot imagine a perfect art machine. If you were to ask robots to do anything that any humans would do, I guarantee you they would probably make the same mistakes.”

When he met Zomorodi at a TEDxTalk, he knew he wanted to help. Van Bruggen and Zomorodi collaborated on a computer algorithm that’s at least 50 times as fast as human editors at working their way through a sample work that was written by Angelou. The algorithm was published in February at the Angelou Zoo while she was in town. The Angelou Zoo is a collection of materials and models created by robots that Zomorodi and her team have used to communicate their robotic skills. The Pi-Pi-Pyramid Station, designed by Rollyo, is one of the models.

Robocoded is working with Angelou to design the user interface for a system that looks like a poetry machine and a drawing studio.

Robocoded is also working with a coworking community in Nigeria to see if it can create a pipeline for translation from the human world into text files.

Van Bruggen is working on the algorithm too, but he’s also using it to become more creative. He wants to design a system where he can simply send quotes from other poets or pictures from his head, and the system will see what it can do. The algorithm can be tweaked to see what parts it can do the best and what it can’t.

However, he said he doesn’t see a future where robots can make poetry by themselves. “We can’t imagine what words would look like that are written by a machine, and that doesn’t happen at all,” he said.

At the moment, Robocoded still primarily works with colleagues to help them turn their content into something amazing. But Van Bruggen’s hope is that soon a system that can create a poem, or art, or some other type of thing will be a lot more universal.

“I think the dreams for us are the Dream Machines,” he said. “These dream machines will come because we have the data. We’ll have an intelligent tank, a tank that can be trained. It will write the pictures. It will write the pages. It will write the code. It will make the machine that writes the poem.”

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