‘Turning to the birds’ is written by A.I. and edited by humans, at the Visual Methodologies Collective. As postcards from a not so distant future, it provided glimpses of life in a world that is heavily impacted by climate change.

To achieve this, we used Open AI’s language model and fine-tuned it on user-generated lists of popular works of climate fiction, identified in a previous study with the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. The climate fiction works on that shortlist include Solar by Ian McEwan, The Carbon Diaries by Saci Lloyd, The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard, and Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood.

We were then able to prompt the machine by entering future dates and have the model complete the entry for that day. A decision was made to correct what we could call ‘drifting pronouns’. So if the text starts with he, we then correct it if it jumps to she, it, they etc. for the sake of legibility. Text-to-speech technology was used to turn the diary into an audiobook which are available on Spotify as a podcast series.

Each entry of the diary is illustrated with an artwork that we co-designed with a text-to-image generation model, that turns textual descriptions of scenes into synthesized images (based on images from ImageNet and COCO (Common Objects In Context). Our next step will be to transform these images into riso-prints, which will then in turn be photographed and featured on spotify as AI-written and human-edited artwork (or ‘album art’) for the podcasts.

Turning to the birds is part of our project Climate Futures: an experiment in collaborating with AI to shed light on climate imaginaries. In the project, AI functions as our co-author, who has (machine) learned about climate imaginaries on the basis of training sets of climate fiction literature, indigineous climate change stories, climate-themed visual arts, and Hollywood ‘climate disaster’ film trailers. We design queries to prompt the machine to create new climate imaginaries, in textual and visual form. Subsequently, we edit these machine-generated cli-fi narratives and translate them into short stories, podcasts, and artwork.

The following machines and algorithms have been part of creating ‘Turning to the birds’:
Tesla T4 (UUID: GPU-ef1d6b8c-7543-5969-4126-316eabeed5f9)
Tesla K80 (UUID: GPU-c7194ecb-e0a8-c862-1d76-5c6e46847652)
Open AI’s GPT-2 345M language model
AttnGAN: Fine-Grained Text to Image Generation with Attentional Generative Adversarial Networks