I just got out of an inspiring talk (despite an onslaught of technical difficulties) given by Corey Pressman, an anthropologist turned experience strategist. He’s working on an interesting project to help computers understand metaphor. In his own words:
We understand the world through metaphor. Our minds seek and spin patterns and connections, likenesses and equations. The most effective and explicit specimens of metaphor are found in poetry.
First off if you’re not speaking in metaphor you are speaking metonymically. Which is completely direct. It would be difficult for you to have a conversation metonymically. I bet you couldn’t eve get past a few exchanges.
Poetry for Robots
So he aims to use poetry to train computers to understand or at least catalog metaphor. To give an example of how much our communication is based in metaphor I’ll throw out some basic ones that Corey presented:
Corey highlighted where tech currently falls down; image search. If you search for happy you get this:
In Corey's vision you would see images that represent happiness in a more abstract or metaphorical way.
While that’s interesting, it hardly feels revolutionary (I think Getty image search accomplishes this experience by employing an army of interns tagging the images)
But what else could technology do if it understood metaphor? Could it be more insightful? What if a computer could understand and appreciate our metaphors? Maybe it’s not a question of what technology would do but how we would change. If you had the ability to use metaphor every time you engage with a computer perhaps you would get smarter, wittier and more insightful?
Go and contribute a poem to Poetry4Robots.com to help train computers how to understand metaphor.