AI gives nature a voice

Dear Mr. President,
We melt. This painful.
We are sad. We are dying.
Please don’t forget us.
your friend,
Ice cap.

On November 19, 2021, Peter van der Putten will be a speaker at NEMO Kennislink’s Thinking Planet event. Van der Putten: “Technology can tell us who we are. With AI, we can push boundaries and predict the future.”

Peter van der Putten

The image and sound of the huge melting ice cap give these words even more power in the artwork of Peter van der Putten and Jeroen van der Most. This message was written by artificial intelligence, Van der Putten, who works at the Leiden Institute for Advanced Computer Science at Leiden University. He is one of the speakers during the Thinking Planet Festival, organized by NEMO Kennislink. We talked to him about this special project Messages from nature.

in a Messages from nature Science and art go hand in hand. How can this be achieved?

Jeroen and I have already worked at the intersection of art and science; That’s how we met. As an artist, Jeroen works a lot with Artificial Intelligence (AI). I’m an AI researcher, but for me, the separation between art and science isn’t that strict. The MSc Media Technology program, where I teach, is also a blend of art science and technology. For example, in a course I taught before, we always finished the lecture series with an exhibition. We are emphatically looking for other forms of scientific output. This can also be an interactive installation.

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“I especially see the similarities between artists and scientists: both try to look at the world in different ways by asking new questions, and both go through a creative process of testing and experimentation before reaching the final product. Outsiders see only that last part: with the world you see a boring post, and the artist is A being full of creativity. But it arises in the same way.”

“By the way, this project is not a university project, but a personal one that took off last summer. Jeroen wondered how you could use such cool technology as AI to bridge the gap between humans and nature. There is a nice tension in that: You use technology to bring people closer to nature, while In fact, she kept us away from her in the first place. That’s how we came up with an idea Messages from nature: Mother Nature has no voice, so let’s use artificial intelligence to give nature that voice.”

Obelisk with letters written in Lakenhall Leiden script.

Can AI write such messages on its own?

“As a researcher, I have access to GTP3, an AI-based computer model that can generate text. The model has been trained with texts from almost the entire Internet, and is very advanced. In short, the model predicts new letters and words over and over based on the letters and words that have been submitted.” To generate text, the form only needs a tiny amount of input.The message above was the result of a simple command: Ai, write a letter from the thaw to the president.

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“We choose ourselves from letters generated by a computer model; we choose the most beautiful. Sometimes we also extract sentences, but we never extract words or half sentences. This is the limitation we have imposed on ourselves. Sometimes there are completely incorrect sentences, but this is fun .people will determine the meaning of it themselves.”

“In principle, the output of a computer model is infinite. We also show this in our contribution to the exhibition If things go wrong In the Cloth Hall in Leiden. The letters are installed there on an obelisk four meters high. It symbolizes an endless stream of messages. This obelisk is quite suitable for our project, because it is natural and artificial: the obelisk is in the form of a rock crystal, and at the same time the Egyptians and Romans used it to write whole stories. You also have science fiction movies in which you download an obelisk with messages from extraterrestrials.”

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do you want with Messages from nature Draw attention to environmental issues in a positive way?

“Yeah, but above all in a creative way. In a way this is an activist work, but there are several layers to it. On the one hand, it’s something that everyone immediately understands, because as children we think it’s very natural for rivers and trees to talk – these kinds of stories told by people For tens of thousands of years around campfires. In addition, we want mind _ mind A little wandering. We want to make people think. How can you speak inanimate objects? What does it mean to be closer to nature? How does technology help nature? “

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“We also choose different angles: such as work, poetry, complaint, asking for help, letters of protest, but also explicit threatening letters and notes of thanks. For example, from the desert, which is very happy with global warming. In this way we want to stimulate the imagination and allow everyone to think about the change of climate in their own way.

Planet Thinking: From the Ego to the Environment Free attendance at De Studio van NEMO on Friday 19 November 2021 from 20:00 to 22:15. The full program and registration form can be found on this page

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