Human Poetry in the age of AI

If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.


By Anthony Williams

The most beautiful intellectual equation in the World is the Dirac equation, which in particle physics is a relativistic wave equation derived by British physicist Paul Dirac in 1928. In its free form, or including electromagnetic interactions, it describes all spin-1/2 massive particles such as electrons and quarks for which parity is a symmetry. It is consistent with both the principles of quantum mechanics and the theory of special relativity, and was the first theory to account fully for special relativity in the context of quantum mechanics. It was validated by accounting for the fine details of the hydrogen spectrum in a completely rigorous way. The equation also implied the existence of a new form of matter, antimatter, previously unsuspected and unobserved and which was experimentally confirmed several years later.

Why is the Dirac equation so beautiful? “(n + m) ψ = 0” is the Dirac equation and the reason it’s the most beautiful equation of physics, is because it describes the phenomenon of Quantum Entanglement, which states that: “If two systems interact with each other for a certain period of time and then are separated, they can no longer be described as two separate systems, but somehow, they become a single system. In other words, what happens to one of them continues to influence each other, even if they are miles apart or light-years away”. A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two ideas. One of the most commonly cited examples of a metaphor in English literature is the “All the world’s a stage” monologue from As You Like It: All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances—William Shakespeare, As You Like It.

This quotation expresses a metaphor because the world is not literally a stage. By asserting that the world is a stage, Shakespeare uses points of comparison between the world and a stage to convey an understanding about the mechanics of the world and the behaviour of the people within it. Why did humanity invent this type of speech, isn’t clarity of speech the basic purpose of all good communications? After all, when we bring clarity to a situation, we help people see what really happened by clearing up misunderstandings or giving explanations. But this article argues that, isn’t it true that all of us, not just poets, speak in metaphors, whether we realise it or not? Is it perhaps even true that we live by metaphors? In Metaphors We Live By George Lakoff, a linguist, and Mark Johnson, a philosopher, suggest that metaphors not only make our thoughts more vivid and interesting but that they actually structure our perceptions and understanding.

Thinking of marriage as a “contract agreement,” for example, leads to one set of expectations, while thinking of it as “team play,” “a negotiated settlement,” “Russian roulette,” “an indissoluble merger,” or “a religious sacrament” will carry different sets of expectations. The authors of this now-classic book share their insights by informing us that, metaphor is for most people device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish, a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought or action. For this reason, most people think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature. The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people.

Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor. Unfortunately, humanity is stuck in the cycle of “Industrial Revolutions” for the past four centuries. Presently we are in the fourth Industrial Revolution, better known as “The Age of AI”. A common theme of all these revolutions has been the rapid machine-based automation of everyday tasks performed at home and at work. Which is beautifully highlighted in a recent article in the BBC Focus Magazine by Sara Rigby “Can humanity survive in the age of AI?”. In her article she speaks to Max Tegmark, AI researcher and co-founder of the Future of Life Institute, about his book, Life 3.0, and the future of artificial intelligence. This is how he summarises the main theme of his book “There’s been a lot of talk about AI disrupting the job market, and enabling new weapons, but very few scientists talk seriously about the elephant in the room: what will happen once machines outsmart us at all tasks? I want to prepare readers to join what I think is the most important conversation of our time. Questions like: “Will superhuman artificial intelligence arrive in our lifetime,” “Can humanity survive in the age of AI, and if so, how can we find meaning and purpose if super-intelligent machines provide all our needs and make all our contributions superfluous,” and above all, “What sort of future should we wish for?”

I feel that we’re on the cusp of the most transformative technology ever and this can be the best thing ever to happen to humanity or the worst, depending on how we prepare for it. I’m an optimist. We can create a great future with AI, and I want to influence people to plan and prepare for it properly”. This article concludes that, it’s not about the fact that we should wait for these intelligent machines to understand metaphors and produce poetry, but the question is that where-to will the human creativity take our collective “concept structures” in the age of AI, for we know this for sure that we will be led in this endeavour by human poets.


Anthony Williams is CEO of Tax Dosti and is Ambassador Lahore AI, which is part of – A Global Non-profit organization dedicated to making AI accessible to all.