Details have been revealed for an AI-powered interactive poetry installation that will explore whether a computer programme can express the complex nature of humanity through verse.
Announced to mark World Poetry Day, the Collective Message will be projected on the façade of the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. It will use words from thousands of visitors from across the globe written into couplets by an algorithm trained on 15,000 poems from more than 100 British poets.
Contemporary poetry from recent Poetry Society competitions is represented, including winners of the National Poetry Competition and Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. In total, more than half a million lines of poetry have been used to train the algorithm.
To bring the Collective Message to life, visitors to the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai will be invited to donate a word they feel describes humanity or life on Earth. From these words, the AI will generate poetic couplets which will combine to build one unified collective message projected on the stunning cone-shaped structure of the UK Pavilion from October 1st 2021 to 31st March 2022.
The Collective Message project has been a collaborative effort led by global brand experience agency Avantgarde who formed an algorithm team to work on the AI development.
The team worked closely with poetry experts from the Poetry Archive, The Poetry Society and Scottish Poetry Library to understand and refine its poetry output. The team then guided the AI toward a modern and timeless voice inspired by the reference material while avoiding topics unsuitable for an international audience. The UK Pavilion’s Supporting Partner Google Arts & Culture has offered advice in this area to optimise the algorithm.
Computer-generated poetry has a long history, but what makes this project so unique is the collaboration between a large number of developers and poetry experts working over an extended period to iteratively refine the output, as well as the number of contributors expected to donate their words to the Collective Message itself.
Steve Austen-Brown, Creative Producer, Avantgarde, said: “It was fascinating to witness the way that the AI entity came to first understand the rudiments of poetry construction and then to generate nuanced and meaningful lines, which, by the end of the process were almost as sophisticated as those created by human poets. It will be exciting to see this develop into a collective message telling our shared story of humanity’s hopes and aspirations.”
Graham Stuart MP, Minister for Exports and Expo 2020 Dubai, said: “The Collective Message is an ambitious project that has been years in the making. Thanks to the innovation of Es Devlin, Avantgarde and everyone involved in bringing it to life, we’ll be able to read a poem uniquely created by individual voices from across the world.
“Expo 2020 Dubai will be a global celebration of human ingenuity, presenting a great opportunity to promote Global Britain, champion free trade, and deliver benefits for every area of the UK.”
The following is an example of the poetry currently being produced by the UK Pavilion’s AI poetry algorithm:
and soon I am staring out again,
begin to practise my words, expecting my word
will come. it will not. the wind is calling.
my friend is near, I hear his breath. his breath
is not the air. he touches me again with his hands
and tells me I am growing old, he says, far old.
we travel across an empty field in my heart.
there is nothing in the dark, I think, but he.
I close my eyes and try to remember what I was.
he says it was a important and interesting day,
because I put in his hands one night
the box of light that had been a tree.
The UK at Expo 2020 Dubai
The UK is participating in Expo 2020 Dubai, taking place from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. Over 190 nations are taking part with 70% of the visitors expected from around the world. The overarching theme for Expo 2020 Dubai is ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’.
The UK’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai will be led by the Department for International Trade (DIT), with support from the Devolved Administrations and other UK Government Departments. The UK’s presence will consist of a self-build country Pavilion and an accompanying business, cultural, tourism and education events programme. The theme of the UK Pavilion is ‘Innovating for a Shared Future’ and will be based in the ‘Opportunity’ district.
Find out more on the UK at Expo 2020 Dubai website
Es Devlin OBE
Award-winning artist and designer Es Devlin is known worldwide for her sculptural installations which are often created as environments for concerts, opera, dance and theatre. Her luminous fluorescent red Fifth Lion sculpture roared A.I. generated collective poetry to crowds in Trafalgar Square during London Design Festival last week. The Singing Tree, her choral collective carol installation at the V&A, fused machine-learning technology with sound and light, and was viewed by over ten million visitors during Christmas 2017. Her Mirrormaze generated queues around the block in Peckham in 2016
The visionary designer collaborated with theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli on an interpretation of The Order of Time read by Benedict Cumberbatch at the legendary rooftop art space, BOLD Tendencies in Peckham in September 2018 and has conceived touring stage sculptures for Beyonce, Kanye West, U2, Adele, The Royal Opera House and The National Theatre as well as designing the London Olympic Closing Ceremony.
Her practice was the subject of a major 2017 Netflix documentary: Abstract: The Art of Design, and she is the winner of numerous awards including three Olivier Awards, the 2017 London Design Medal, a UAL fellowship and an OBE.
The global brand experience agency Avantgarde has been commissioned as the prime design contractor for the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai by the Department of International Trade. The teams at Avantgarde will be responsible for the coordination, and overall creative production across interactive, exhibition and digital experiences, demonstrating their multidisciplinary capabilities.
Avantgarde is a global brand experience agency which advises brands strategically with 500 experts in ten countries. Avantgarde played a pivotal role in Astana Expo 2017, turning the Astana Contemporary Art Centre and the Energy Best Practices Area into engaging and innovative experiences. The agency is looking forward in bringing all its interdisciplinary expertise and Expo experience together to deliver a powerful statement for the UK.
Google Arts & Culture
Google Arts & Culture is a non-profit initiative. They work with cultural institutions and artists around the world. Together, their mission is to preserve and bring the world’s art and culture online so it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere. At the Google Arts & Culture Lab we support experimentation at the intersection of art and technology.
The Poetry Archive is a not-for-profit organisation that produces, acquires and preserves recordings of poets reading their own work out loud. Visitors can also explore a range of special collections, guided tours and interviews. We make substantial excerpts from our recording sessions freely available online through both the Poetry Archive and our dedicated Children's Poetry Archive.
Children's Poetry Archive is dedicated to poetry written for children and presented in a website which is easy and fun to use. It is a place where children can explore poetry in their own time and at their own pace engendering a love for poetry which will last them a lifetime. There are substantial resources available to teachers to inspire young learners.
The Poetry Society
The Poetry Society is the UK’s leading organisation for poetry. With innovative education and commissioning programmes, and a packed calendar of performances, competitions, and digital projects, The Poetry Society champions poetry for all ages. The Poetry Society was founded in 1909 to promote a “more general recognition and appreciation of poetry”. Since then, it has grown into a dynamic arts organisation, representing British poetry both nationally and internationally. It has a thriving worldwide membership and publishes Britain’s leading poetry magazine, The Poetry Review. The Poetry Society is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and a registered charity. poetrysociety.org.uk
Scottish Poetry Library
Bringing people and poems together is at the heart of everything the Scottish Poetry Library does. Its building, set in the heart of Edinburgh, holds 40 000 poetry-related items and is a hub of poetry events, workshops and discussions. The Scottish Poetry Library strives for its visitors, borrowers and service users to experience the SPL as a welcoming and compassionate organisation, aiming to transform people’s lives through exciting experiences and creative engagement with poetry – the ‘spark o’ Nature’s fire’ as Robert Burns wrote.