Cybernetics and Ghosts. The state of the art on poetry and AI

From December 15 to 30, the cultural organization Sineglossa presents in Recanati at Villa Colloredo Mels the poetry and artificial intelligence exhibition CIBERNETICS AND GHOSTS, in collaboration with La Punta della Lingua, a total poetry festival, with support from the Marche Region – Department of Culture and the patronage of the City of Recanati – Department of Culture.

An exhibition that chooses Giacomo Leopardi’s hometown and a title inspired by a lecture by Italo Calvino to illuminate new points of contact between the eternal human need for poetry and the linguistic and combinatorial capabilities of artificial intelligences. The idea that a machine could dislodge the human being from the “stores of life” and replace him as much in “material things” as in “spiritual things,” is anticipated by Leopardi in 1824, in one of the lesser-known but more visionary and futuristic Operette morali in which the Recanatese poet imagines an Academy of Sillographers – sillographers were, in ancient Greece, poets of ironic and burlesque verse – establishing a competition to award prizes for the three best inventions capable of replacing the human being. Tied instead to the hypothesis of a literary machine is the title chosen for the exhibition, Cybernetics and Ghosts: “given that developments in cybernetics concern machines capable of learning, of changing their own program, of developing their own sensibility and needs, there is nothing to prevent us from thinking that at some point the literary machine will feel dissatisfaction with its own traditionalism and will set out to propose new ways of understanding writing, and to completely upset its own codes” (Cybernetics and Ghosts – Notes on Fiction as a Combinatorial Process).

The exhibition is anticipated by the poetry contest Cybernetics and Ghosts: a contest open to everyone, poets and nonpoets alike, with no age or language limits, in which one can submit a poem written by AI, about AI or with AI. All submitted works will become part of a digital archive that will return the diverse landscape of poetic research in this field, and the winner will be awarded a prize worth 500 euros. Submissions will be possible until Sunday, December 3. The winning poem will be announced on December 15, 2023, at the opening of the exhibition. The jury that will evaluate the works will be composed of Luigi Socci and Valerio Cuccaroni, artistic directors of the poetry festival La Punta della Lingua, Federico Bomba, artistic director of Sineglossa, computational poet Fabrizio Venerandi, and historian of computational literature Roberta Iadevaia, who is also involved as scientific advisor of the exhibition. CIBERNETICS AND GHOSTS is a retrospective on the state of the art of poetry made by artificial intelligence, with artificial intelligence and about artificial intelligence, through an exhibition path designed to offer visitors an overview of the possible forms of interaction between humans and machines in the processes of creation. From works produced autonomously by AIs capable of reading, thanks to sensors, the physical context in which they find themselves and reproducing it in poetry, to verses written by humans about our relationship with intelligent machines, crossing various intermediate levels of co-creation between the two authorships.

The exhibition is housed in the museum of Villa Colloredo Mels, in Recanati, a space where poetry, art and artificial intelligence can dialogue with the masterpieces of Renaissance master Lorenzo Lotto and the section dedicated to Giacomo Leopardi. If Calvino already opened to the creative possibilities of cybernetics, at a time when human beings were beginning to understand “how to disassemble and reassemble the most complicated and most unpredictable of all its machines: language,” what happens when language disassembled and reassembled by artificial intelligence meets poetic writing through its authors? The exhibition will attempt to answer this question, taking the audience on a journey from the earliest electronic experiments to the use of generative artificial intelligences such as ChatGpt or MidJourney, through the works of some of the most active Italian and U.S. artists in the contemporary ai-generated poetry scene. On the opening talk, an interactive live co-creation reading with ChatGPT by Andrea Capodimonte will be hosted. Within the exhibition itinerary, it will also be possible to attend a screening of the 1971 sci-fi medium-length film Il Versificatore (The Versifier), based on a story by Primo Levi, preserved in the Teche Rai, about the commercialization of a poetry-generating machine. In a near-future society, the demand for poetry is high; a professional poet, burdened with a heavy workload, is considering the purchase of a ‘versifier,’ a sophisticated device capable of generating verse on demand. The representative of these electronic devices explains to the poet and his secretary the workings of the machine, which soon begins to exhibit unusual and surprising behaviors.

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