Robot Burns: Using HPC to Create Modern-Day Poems Inspired by 18th Century Master

Two hundred and twenty five years after his death, famed Scottish poet Robert Burns continues to create masterpieces.

Well, sort of. The new verses — penned in the style of the author of the acclaimed ‘Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’ collection of poems and lyricist to “Auld Lang Syne” and other tunes — are actually attributed to Robot Burns, an artificial intelligence/machine learning project that is the brainchild of Perry Gibson, a PhD student in computing science at The University of Glasgow.

Gibson has published a 20-poem pamphlet “written” in the style of Scotland’s favorite son and generated using a neural network on an HPC platform. The project emerged from Perry’s research interests focused on code generation that makes neural networks more efficient on low-power devices.

“Technology and the arts interface every day (and) Robot Burns is just one articulation in an evolving landscape,” says Gibson, who used Google Colab for the initial code development, as it’s a convenient platform due to easy access to GPUs, TPUs and other accelerators.

Once the code was established, Gibson packaged it in a Python script to run on a Linux server with a high-end GPU. Using the free tier of Google Colab for prototyping allowed him to minimize the billable hours spent on the server.

The 20 poems generated by Robot Burns are similar in tone, topics and style to those of Burns, a tenant farmer who wrote most of his works in his native language of Scots, a sister language to English. Thus, the output from Robot Burns includes words and spellings that fascinated Perry, prompting him to renew his own interest in the work of the Ayrshire poet who is still recognized as Scotland’s National Bard.

As Perry told a reporter for the Glasgow Evening News, “This will do nothing to change Burns’ existing body of work, (but) it has actually brought at least one reader back to him: namely, me. I’m excited to hear what people think of the results and how they feel Robot Burns compares to the work of Robert Burns.”

Perry’s project is a compelling example of how the theme for SC21 – “Science & Beyond” – manifests in countless ways. HPC may be best known for its applications in manufacturing and pharmaceutical development, but its emerging technologies are powering a wide range of cutting-edge research across numerous fields and sectors.

Many will be on display in St. Louis during SC21, the HPC showcase that offers numerous use cases, cutting-edge research and live demos of emerging technologies to tackle the world’s toughest challenges, unlock discoveries and open up new frontiers – on land, in the depths of the sea, and in outer space.


Cristin Merritt, SC21 Inclusivity Liaison for Communications

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