The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought

Hey, readers…did you catch author and computer/technology expert David Gelernter on The Glenn Beck Program? If not, you can check out a clip of his chat with Glenn below and get the lowdown on the morality (or lack thereof) of science.


It’s a simple question you’ve probably asked yourself at one point:

Can emotion become part of a computer?

David Gelernter, one of the leading experts in artificial intelligence, begins The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought by also posing this provocative (and heretofore, unanswered) question.

But Gelernter sets himself apart in succeeding pages, as he points to a future revolution in computers as well as a radical change in the way we might view the human mind itself.

Here the author melds computer science, cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, and literary theory, and emerges with new ideas of how human beings have thought in the past, how we think today, and how computers will learn to think in the future.

Gelernter comes at the issue from a different reference point on The Glenn Beck Program:

Check out this eye-opening excerpt from The Muse in the Machine in which Gelernter proposes a “spiritual” computer:

It’s hard to conceive offhand of a less promising consumer innovation than a computer that comes factory equipped with “emotions”—but here’s a candidate: how about a “spiritual” computer? The spiritual computer spends its time pondering the mysteries of the universe, occasionally printing cryptic messages on its screen and otherwise ignoring the user altogether.

Here’s what the “emotional” computer would do. You might describe a complicated medical case to it and ask for the diagnosis. The computer might give you a serious, telling answer, but add, “…still, I’m not happy with that; it doesn’t feel right.”

You might describe a complex legal case and ask for its advice. It’s answered harder questions before, but on this occasion it might put you off with a comment about how the plaintiff reminds it of your sister.

You might describe an intricate stock deal and ask whether you should invest. In the past its advice has been solid—not infallible but better than any human’s you’ve ever consulted, in part because it has billions of case histories down cold. But on this occasion it tells you, “‘Buzz off. I’m not in the mood. Let’s talk about Jane Austen.”

Who needs this kind of nonsense from a computer? Science does; in a broader sense we all do, because adding “emotions” to computers is the key to the biggest unsolved intellectual puzzle of our time: how thinking works. Oddly enough, our “emotional” computer will be capable of “spirituality” as well. No topic is further than spirituality from the interests of the researchers who are trying to understand the human mind. But as we will see, spirituality turns out the be central to cognitive psychology, and therefore to artificial intelligence, and therefore to computer science, and therefore to the whole history of science and technology.

In this clip Gelernter breaks down some of his theories about the future of computing:

In The Muse in the Machine, Gelernter—who also penned Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion—smartly invokes references to the Bible along with artificial intelligence (and even romantic poets). An acclaimed and compelling read that challenges assumptions and pushes the envelope.