Future Tense Newsletter: Robots Aren’t Poets, but They Don’t Know It

Shall I compare thee to a modem’s sound?


Greetings, Future Tensers,

When talk of artificial intelligence and automation dominate our discussions about the future of work, it can be good to step back and remind ourselves robots, in fact, can’t do everything. For instance, Grace Bellenger reports that while A.I. has managed to reproduce the structure of poetry, it fails to capture the genre’s nuance. Another thing it isn’t great at? Making us less depressed. Woebot, a chatbot on Facebook designed to provide therapy-like conversation, recently made a splash as the first peer-reviewed technology of its type. But despite the hype, the bot didn’t actually do much to decrease anxiety and depression for users. Ciarán Mc Mahon explains what the results actually show—and the role these kinds of apps can play in mental health care.

And while they might be intelligent, robots still need coordination. Take the recent case of a security robot that fell into a fountain outside of the D.C. office it was bought to protect. While the incident lent itself to some fun, dark online humor, it was also a reminder that robots aren’t always mechanically equipped to navigate a world designed for humans.

Other things we learned this week in between sending our friends puke emojis over internet service providers’ reactions to calls for net neutrality.

  • A Comic Sans of errors: The next time your co-workers get annoyed at you for obsessing over fonts, send them this story of how a font is making a bad scandal worse for Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family.
  • E.T., hit snooze: Wondering why it’s 2017 and we still haven’t made contact with aliens? A new paper proposes that our extraterrestrial neighbors are hibernating and don’t want to waste their energy on answering our messages.
  • There are robots with bigger hearts: The Trump administration finally gave an Afghan girls’ robotics team a pass and allowed them into the country for an international competition. Future Tense’s Torie Bosch explains why we shouldn’t give his intolerance a pass.
  • Stalker-chat: Adults aren’t the only ones alarmed by Snapchat’s new map feature. Two teens explain why they think it’s creepy, too.
  • Lost in translation: As companies like Amazon and Tinder scramble for a piece of the 355 million user Indian internet market, they must also figure out how to tailor content for new audiences. Meeran Karim reports on why tech giants are pre-emptively censoring their products before the government gets involved.

Still definitely not a robot,
Tonya Riley

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University