Sony Robot SDR-SX

Notes to Poem:


By Peter Y. Chou

Honda Asimo Robot

You can beat all the grandmasters in chess—
But can you beat an armed Luddite— no or yes?

Deep Blue Defeats Chess Champion Garry Kasparov 3.5 to 2.5 (IBM Research)
Crushed by Deep Blue, Kasparov lashes back at IBM (CNN, May 11, 1997)
Luddism and the Neo-Luddite Reaction
(Martin Ryder, University of Colorado at Denver)
Return of the Luddites (By William Safire)
(New York Times Magazine, Dec. 6, 1998)
Is it O.K. to be a Luddite? (By Thomas R. Pynchon)
(New York Times Book Review, 28 October 1984, pp. 1, 40-41)
Interview with the Luddite Kirkpatrick Sale
(By Kevin Kelly, Wired Magazine, June 1995)

You get perfect scores on SAT exams—
But can you crack koans— the sound of one hand?

The Zen Masters of the T'ang dynasty tested the monks' understanding of spiritual awakening not by their rote memory of Buddhist sutras or Confucian sayings. They devised koans— those illogical puzzles which students could not find the answers in books but only within themselves. Some koans are "What's the sound of one hand clapping?" and "What is your face before your parents were born?" It's conceivable that a robot can be programmed with a large database to score 800 on the SATs. But can Robo-Man answer koans from a Zen Master? 101 Zen Koans; Zen Buddhism Koan Study Pages

You can calm our children when they cry—
But can you cry should our children ever die?

John Smart in his Stanford Lecture "Understanding the Singularity" (5-20-2003) mentioned that there is a "Smart Cathy" doll ($300) that responds to a child's crying. It will perk up and comfort the child to stop crying. The original Chatty Cathy dolls were made by Mattel in the 1960's and can talk when a string is pulled. At MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, Cog and Kismet Robots are being developed that are social & embodied. But can Robo-Man laugh at our jokes and cry when our heart is hurt?

You can say "Good Morning", meow and purr—
But can you catch mice and grow a coat of fur?

Robokitty has video cameras for eyes, stereo microphones for ears and speakers for meowing. It also has touch sensors that will let it know when it is being stroked, so it can purr. It'll play with wool. If you pull its tail, it'll reach around to scratch. It'll run around and do hundreds of cat behaviors. But so far it hasn't caught any mice and needs a coat of fur.

You know all the fish, birds and beasts by name—
But the wolf of Gubbio— can you train & tame?

The Wolf of Gubbio is from Saint Francis of Assisi's Little Flowers of St. Francis, Chapter 21: How St. Francis Tamed the Very Fierce Wolf of Gubbio. The fierce wolf terrorized the town of Gubbio by devouring not only animals by even humans. St. Francis was able to tame the wolf and made it apologize to the townspeople. Can Robo-Man change the psyche of beasts to be peaceful the way a saint or sage can harmonize nature?

You chant all the sutras without a break—
But can you dispel the demons from the lake?

Genno Shinsho (1329-1400), a Zen priest was summoned to dispel an evil dragon from a village pond. Atsutada, the lord of Kasuga castle erected a new Zen temple (Taikyuji) for Genno when the demons were cast away. Likewise, the poet Han Yü (768-824) recited his Address to the Crocodiles, threatening to shoot them with poison arrows, and chased these menacing beasts away from the Chaozhou riverbanks. Can Robo-Man play the role of a Shaman and cast away beasts of terror and evil demonic spirits?

You can repair our old damaged DNAs—
But will you toil for free without any pay?

Nanomedicine makes it better (By Liz Kalaugher,
Nanomedicine: destination or journey?
(By C.A. Haberzettl, Nanotechnology, July 4, 2002)
Nanomedicine Art Gallery
(By Robert A. Freitas Jr., Foresight Institute, 2002)
If nanobots have intelligence that exceed humans,
will they toil non-stop as our slaves for free.
At what point will they strike and demand more pay?

You can pivot, swirl in sync, waltz and dance—
But can you stir up passion and make romance?

A Japanese dancing robot can follow a human dancer's lead.
Equipped with a computer, sensors and batteries, it can move in
any direction on four wheels and has memory for steps necessary
to dance the waltz. Professor Kazuhiro Kosuge, leader of the
Tohoku University team that developed the robot, says future
versions will be able to move in sync with humans.

You have all the cloud names in your brain—
But can you spike them and bring down the rain?

This couplet is not so much about the weather as spiritual contemplation.
The reference on "spiking the cloud to bring rain" is the image of Mercury
poking at the clouds with his caduceus in Botticelli's Primavera (1478).
See Analysis of Painting and poem "Entering the Primavera"

You have all the museum paintings in your mind—
But can you paint a Titian and be so refined?

Aaron, a robotic artist can produces paintings that could easily pass for human work (NY Times, 12-28-2000). If modern restorers of Titian ruined the original flesh tones of the Old Master, can a robot do any better? Can we detect any progress in style or technique in robotic art or is it totally randomized? For example, seeing Van Gogh's early charcoals of dark coal mining and his later paintings of luminous wheat fields and starry nights, we witness the progress of an artist from doubt to certainty. Van Gogh's sunflowers and wheatfields bathe us in sunlight. Can robotic art convey such emotions to us?
According to John Ruskin, Titian and Michelangelo would refuse to use modern technology in their artworks. To do so, would separate the artist from "the flesh and senses of humanity." Read more of this art & technology conflict in O'Hear's essay:
Anthony O'Hear, "Art and Technology: An Old Tension"
in Roger Fellows (ed.), Philosophy and Technology,
Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 143-158

You can write poems and rhyme rice with spice—
But can you lift us like Dante to paradise?

Oman, an egg-shaped robotic poet & photographer can speak 7 languages.
A.D.A.M. (Another Dimension of Artistic Manifestations) is a Random Poetry Generator by Nandy Millan. E.L.I. (Electro-Linguistic Imagination), a cyborg media cart, is programmed to generate random poetry from a text database. It's possible to fill a computer's memory with a rhyming dictionary, and it may even compose a sonnet or a haiku. But does Robo-Man have a command of metaphors, seeing similarity in differences— the mark of a true poet according to Aristotle? Can Robo-Man write a poem like Dante's Commedia and illumine our mind and bring heaven to earth?

You have read entire libraries it seems—
But can you sing to us your impossible dream?

Project Gutenberg on the Internet has 6267 books in its database (Nov. 2002), and one can imagine a robot with entire libraries scanned into its memory. Will Robo-Man be able to write an original novel, one that will enchant and enlighten us like Don Quixote, the Man of La Mancha who sings to us of "The Impossible Dream"?

                                          — Peter Y. Chou
                                               Mountain View, 9-3-2003

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (9-3-2003)