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Haiku in the Workplace: Man v. Machine

It’s grim reality week at the Financial Times. Each of the dystopias that our submitters have presented would have been science fiction a quarter of a century ago, but they are science fact today. And though we know enough to realize that the machine age is upon us, we don’t know enough to win the day. This is going to get worse before it gets better. If it gets better.

We won’t be able to say we didn’t know what was at stake:

the past looms large —
all our wars lost to machines
woven in history
	[David Dayson]

We simply weren’t well-prepared:

the IT Consultant —
flummoxed by a dishwasher
baffled by a Hoover 
	[David Dayson]

We were baited — mocked, even:

I only do what 
a programmer instructs —
the computer tells me
	[David Dayson]

Until we had to take matters into our own hands:

She wouldn’t let me be,
She had it coming:
Siri’s dead
	[Samuel Sibony]

But even such efforts, we know, will never be enough:

The luddites are dead.
You can’t destroy a Cloud
like bones and a will
	[Samuel Sibony]

Each of my top three this week finds a moment of personal horror in the impersonality of an interaction, brought to you by a server near you. In my third selection,

an algorithm
will see you now —
for a wikinosis
	[David Dayson]

the poet is offered a series of trends as a proxy in lieu of the personal touch of a physician. The program may or may not actually be a better predictor — that’s the unnerving thing about these matters. But we can be sure the computer will not deduce things based on its years of experience of feeling the skin, observing the sclera, noting the breath — in other words, on the poet himself. Of course, doctors, now harried to supply data to the machines, have less time to do these things as well. Let’s hope what he has is normative!

It’s bad enough having to cope with machines all day, but how unnerving is it to wonder after one’s own affect? My second prize this week goes to

on the phone today —
would I have passed
the Turing test
	[David Dayson]

This may be as much a comment on the nature of the poet’s daily conversation — is this telemarketing, say? — as on his own spirit. But the fact that he must ask such a question means he is already deeply aware of feeling dehumanized, and even knows whereby he is being judged. At least we can be sure that only a human could wonder such a thing.

My top selection conjures a date in history (May 1997) that already feels like so long ago:

we all became 
a little blue when —
Deep Blue won
	[David Dayson]

There was hope so long as we could claim some area of cognition in which we were superior. Kasparov was our champion — our champion — and surely he could outwit an array of binary switches. And then, of course, he didn’t. The species received a colossal blow to its ego, and there was no turning back. The poet puns nicely on the name of the new chess champion, developed by IBM, but it goes deeper than that. We all became a little blue, the poem says, and of course that means we felt a bit glum by being moved down a peg in the universe. But it also means we all took on a bit of a blue aspect, too, all became affected by the computer that dethroned homo sapiens as the best chess playing entities. This is a deeper truth, since now Deep Blue and its ubiquitous relatives have become inseparable from our lives. And just as its victory diminished us just a little bit, it also certified its own worthiness. We may come to rue it some day, but for now, at least, we all remain a little blue, and for the most part seem glad for it.

There are computer programs for generating haiku. Though they produce the occasional plausible poem, none of these programs has yet passed the Kacian Test for a batch of, say, 5 poems, but humans can easily simulate the kinds of haiku computers produce. Turn off your electronic devices and write your next haiku by hand. Let’s see a machine do that . . .

New Poems

no contest . . .
a machine does the job
with minutes to spare
     — Willie Bongcaron

          *

unmindful of time
in the field among flowers
a broken machine
     — Ernesto P. Santiago

          *

lost in the woods
with no hope of being found
even in this techy age
     — Celestine Nudanu

          *

prove you’re human . . .
hugging and kissing
my laptop
     — Maria Laura Valente

          *

alexa . . .
where have you been
all my life
     — Michael Henry Lee

          *

meeting announcement — 
email reaching workers   
eight feet away
     — Valentina Ranaldi-Adams

          *

thread creation error
if only we spoke
the same language
     — Anna Maris

          *

costco to coffee
me — all in a pact of
soft grinding
     — S. Radhamani

          *

that Friday feeling
only the network 
slower than me
     — Rachel Sutcliffe

          *

a night shift
the pc checkmates my king 
much too fast
     — Marta Chocilowska

          *

Friday traffic
the gas gauge
on empty
     — Gail Oare

          *

captcha —
the computer asks
if i am human
     — Arvinder Kaur

          *

reaching the summit
a robot
tries to sell me something
     — Mark Gilbert

          *

man vs machine 
technology vs mythology . . .
God. I hate science
     — Katherine Stella

          *

a loose screw
I say no to my Apple
being twice bitten
     — Alan Summers

          *

frozen lightning
my mood jammed
in the copier
     — Jennifer Hambrick

          *

on/off —
the relationship with 
his computer
     — Ana Drobot

          *

that moment of reckoning
watson wins
jeopardy
     — Pat Davis

          *

retrenched . . .
my journey home 
in a driverless bus
     — Madhuri Pillai

          *

all creation
a tenuous string
of ones and zeroes
     — Michael H. Lester

          *

a misplaced
wrench
and he’s out the door
     — Debbie Feller

          *

thank you
this urge to connect with
a checkout machine
     — Jan Dobb

          *

new desktop —
the musical sound clips 
of my old typewriter
     — Pravat Kumar Padhy

          *

excited —
a direct confrontation
with a P.C. intelligence
     — Angela Giordano

          *

bedroom pigeons
pecking at my midnight
with a cursor
     — Alegria Imperial

          *

tax preparation 
deadline missed 
broken abacus
     — Paul Geiger

          *

robot expo —
actions speak louder
than words
     — Hifsa Ashraf

          *

cleaners out
I shift chairs
for the Robovac
     — Marietta McGregor

          *

power cut
in the post room
a pencil sharpener
     — Mike Gallagher

          *

even in his absence
a clamor in the wash —
his two cents
     — Martha Magenta

          *

assembly line
an old song
breaks the silence
     — Eufemia Griffo

          *

cobots
the need to reprogram
my brain
     — Maria Tomczak

          *

all of her
this rugged
ceramic bowl
     — Enrique Garrovillo

          *

one machine doing
the work of so many
a lone worker
     — Karen Harvey

          *

man v. machine . . .
no, malware is just —
man v. man
     — Tomislav Maretic

          *

down the rabbit hole . . .
assigned to learn
new software
     — Elizabeth Moura

          *

man v machine —
haiku written in pencil
on a piece of paper

uomo e macchina
haiku scritti a matita
su pezzi di carta
     — Lucia Cardillo

          *

unseen manager
emails like folded paper planes
flying between us
     — Carmen Sterba

          *

a metal slug
in the vending machine
free snacks
     — Lee Nash

          *

a supercomputer . . .
will it be the last invention
of humanity?
     — Elisa Allo

          *

software update
another opportunity
to lose contacts
     — Erin Castaldi

          *

Broken Xerox
my ink-stained hands pull
out torn paper
     — Frank J. Tassone

          *

singularity —
the equation describing love
explodes
     — Stefano Riondato

          *

to my boss
after discharge:
“I’ll be back”
     — Cezar Ciobika

          *

on his retirement
he had no hands
to receive his award
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah

          *


Next Week’s Theme: Sick Day

Send your poem using “workplace haiku” as the subject by Sunday midnight to our Contact Form. Good luck!

kacian_jimFrom October 2014 through April 2016 Haiku Foundation president Jim Kacian offered a column on haiku for the London Financial Times centered on the theme of work. Each week we share these columns with the haiku community at large, along with an invitation to join in the fun. Submit a poem by Sunday midnight on the theme of the week, from the classical Japanese tradition, or contemporary practice, or perhaps one of your own, which you might even write for the occasion. The best of these will be appended to the column. First published 12 October 2015.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Samuel’s piece about Siri had me in stitches. I’ve had countless battles with my friend, and Siri for that matter as a direction fascillitator, and can so relate to that poem. Thank you, Stephan

  2. Thanks for publishing mine.

    I enjoyed this one –

    that Friday feeling
    only the network
    slower than me
    — Rachel Sutcliffe

  3. Dear esteemed poet,
    Greetings! Eagerly awaited workplace column arrived, me going through all gems one by one.
    The following is interesting one of so many .

    man v machine —
    haiku written in pencil
    on a piece of paper

    with regards
    S.Radhamani

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