Your head is warm with thine
And cannot fly
Eclectic shadows that display the sky
Listen to the wild rose of the old man’s sight
This is the beginning of the first poem composed by a new artificial intelligence. Google teamed up with sculptor Es Devlin to collect words from passersby at the London Design Festival and use them to generate new lines of verse. It’s an intriguing conceptual experiment about algorithms that produce original works of art, and the ways they can collaborate with humans.
Lion on the cold hard ground
The statue is a bright red lion, placed next to the four bronze lion statues that have stood in Trafalgar Square since 1867. Unlike the existing lions, though, this one has a computer screen in its mouth.
On a small kiosk in front of the lion statue, Trafalgar Square visitors can input a word. Then, using a machine learning algorithm trained on tens of millions of words of 19th century poetry, it spits out a new line incorporating the new word. At night, the evolving poem — it’s pleasant, but reads a bit like a poetry Mad Lib, lacking that je ne sais quoi of a human author with, like, feelings — is projected onto the lion’s body and the towering column behind it.
The exhibit, which ran until September 23, came about after Deslin visited Trafalgar Square last year started thinking about the history of the spot as a forum of protest and celebration. He started imagining ways that visitors could work together to create something.
“I had this thought that what if these lions had absorbed all of this sound in celebration and in protest through their bronze skin,” Deslin wrote in a post about the origins of the project. “What if you could open one of their mouths and let it speak, what would it say?”