The Art of Writing Poetry with an AI

Collaborative Poetry Side View

Writing poetry is a reflective, creative, and often incredibly vulnerable experience. It’s a profoundly human experience. So what happens when you ask a computer to do it?

Working with the MIT Museum, we wanted to answer that question while inviting visitors to consider challenging issues of authorship and authenticity, which are currently being raised by popular AI art generators like Midjourney and Dall-E. Rather than relinquishing control to an AI, we wanted to create something visitors could engage with as a collaborator to highlight its value as a tool for unlocking their own creativity. 


An early conceptual rendering of Collaborative Poetry, created in collaboration with our architectural partners Studio Joseph

Conquering Writer’s Block with Good UI Design

Any good collaboration begins with listening. Our first task was to figure out how to quickly and naturally get the AI to “listen” to what the human partner wanted to write about. 

We considered an array of prompts and moods, from casual and conversational—How are you feeling today? What are your interests? What is your dream?—to formal and technical checkboxes. After some quick prototyping, we decided to keep things simple, encouraging users to select the subject and mood of the piece from a predetermined list while also giving them the option to create their own. It’s an intuitive system designed to get users to conquer writer’s block and start creating.

Collaborative Poetry Sketch

One of many early concept sketches for Collaborative Poetry

Collaborative Poetry UX

A UX design mockup suggests the tone and manner in which we might onboard a visitor

Finding the Right AI Collaborator

Next, we had to make sure the AI’s contributions were actually helpful. 

We used a relatively primitive open-source AI for our initial prototype. With the press of a single key, users could invite the AI to write a few words at a time. Although this early version responded with content-appropriate suggestions, it didn’t always pick up on the mood of the piece, resulting in some charming, though unusual and somewhat awkward works. It wasn’t a great listener, and it didn’t have the best vocabulary. But even so, it was fun! It was engaging, surprising, and occasionally even moving. It worked. Now the next step was to refine it with a more sophisticated AI. 

Collaborative Poetry Prompt Screen

A collaborative poem with GPT-3

Enter Open AI GPT-3

Through our partnership with MIT, we could access the cutting-edge of artificial intelligence, OpenAI GPT-3, which wasn’t widely available to the public at the time. This model is trained on any and all publicly available text on the internet—books, blogs, recipes, Reddit, and more—-and is incredibly nuanced in its understanding of language, mood, and meaning. 


A simple GPT-3 prototype to qualify the experience. It works!

Designing a Personal Experience in a Public Space. 

It was important for MIT that users felt comfortable enough to write from the heart. We wanted them to be a little vulnerable. So we needed both a private space for composition in addition to a more public space where visitors could read the collected works of past poets. And it had to be relatively compact. Working with the museum’s exhibition designer Studio Joseph, we explored, prototyped, and refined many ideas, building and testing full-scale mockups in real-world settings.  


A prototype version of Collaborative Poetry in the Bluecadet production space

A Reflective Space

Studio Joseph ultimately distilled our needs into a single iconic gesture; a thin, swooping form that reinforces both the writing and display experience. It looks almost magical to see it floating in the gallery and enhances the dramatic visual that rewards users when they “publish” their poem,  which joins hundreds of others floating above them before disappearing for a two-stage moderation process. 

The effect on visitors is like magic too. Despite being in the middle of a busy gallery with observers all around, visitors spend a lot of time on their compositions and are often touched by the results.

Swooping form

A workshop with Studio Joseph and the team the MIT Museum

Swooping canapy

Collaborative Poetry in the Bluecadet production studio ready to ship to the MIT Museum

From Concept to Prototype to Product

Making something like this is only possible because we were working with MIT. Not only did they help us access cutting-edge tech, they also let us invest the time it took to balance AI intervention, human vulnerability, and shared creativity. 

Final Documentation

Only at MIT

This is a piece that visitors spend a lot of time using. Some are genuinely moved by what they create. Others are more interested in trying to “hack” the AI to find its limitations and restrictions. We’ve seen people both laugh and cry at the composition table. 

Collaborative Poetry inspires a real human engagement with technology, which is exactly what the MIT museum was designed to do.

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