Tony Veale
University College Dublin,

Metaphors All the Way Down: The many practical uses of figurative language understanding

Thursday, 8.9.2016, 11:00 - 12:00

More and more of the content we consume on social networking platforms such as Twitter is computer-generated. If this content were just another form of spam then these networks would truly become the 21st century’s version of Borges’ Library of Babel, a world in which the content that is actually worth consuming is ultimately lost in a sea of random, meaningless noise. Yet there are encouraging signs that it need not be so. On Twitter, savvy users follow machine generators of content – called Twitterbots – knowing them to be machines and valuing their outputs all the more for their oddity and artificiality. These bots are not designed to fool humans, but to engage them in language games that explore the relation of form to meaning and provocatively flit along the boundary between sense and nonsense. As there is a long history of human artists doing precisely this – ranging from Duchamp and Breton to Dali and Burroughs – bots are simply the next stage in the evolution of thought-provoking automated content creation. Bots that lack a semantic grounding often compensate with a statistical brio for superficial production that naturally yields outputs which can appear poetic and deeply metaphorical. In this presentation I shall consider how an AI bot can deliberately produce meaningful metaphors from a knowledge-base of everyday facts and beliefs. But we need not stop there: given an ability to produce metaphors on demand, a computational system can produce higher-level digital constructs such as stories and games that make the familiar seem strange and the strange seem oddly and meaningfully familiar. I will describe how metaphor and blending can play a pivotal role in these engaging new forms of digital content, to the extent that they truly do rest on metaphors all the way down. 

Dr. Tony Veale is a Computer Scientist at University College Dublin, Ireland, where his research focuses on the computational modeling of creative linguistic phenomena, including metaphor, blending, simile, analogy and verbal irony. He leads the European Commission's PROSECCO network ( and @PROSECCOnetwork), an international coordination action that aims to promote the scientific exploration of Computational Creativity. He is particularly interested in the generative creativity of metaphor, and builds generative models of metaphor, simile and blending which are made publically available as reusable Web services to promote the integration of figurative language processing capabilities in third-party applications. He is the author of the 2012 monograph on computational linguistic creativity titled Exploding the Creativity Myth: The Computational Foundations of Linguistic Creativity from Bloomsbury press and co-author (with Ekaterina Shutova and Beata Beigman Klebanov) of Metaphor: A Computational Perspective from Morgan Claypool press. He is the creator of the metaphor-generating and story-telling Twitterbot @MetaphorMagnet and the founder of the educational Web-site, which promotes the philosophy and practice of Computational Creativity to the general public.