POEMPORTRAITS is an online collective artwork, experimenting at the boundaries of AI and human collaboration—a combination of poetry, design and machine learning. A POEMPORTRAIT is your self portrait overlaid with a unique poem, created by AI. Starting today, you can create your own and contribute to the evolving, collective poem.
To create your POEMPORTAIT, head to g.co/poemportraits. Once you get there, you’ll be asked to donate a word of your choice and take a self portrait. Each word you donate will be expanded into original lines of poetry by an algorithm that’s trained on millions of words of nineteenth century poetry. You’ll then receive a unique POEMPORTRAIT of your face, illuminated by your original lines of poetry. All of the lines of poetry are then combined to form an ever-evolving, collective poem.
To create the technology behind POEMPORTRAITS, I collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab and Ross Goodwin. Ross trained an algorithm to learn to write poems by reading over 25 million words written by 19th century poets. It works a bit like predictive text: it doesn’t copy or rework existing phrases, but uses its training material to build a complex statistical model. As a result, the algorithm generates original phrases emulating the style of what it’s been trained on.
The resulting poems can be surprisingly poignant, and at other times nonsensical. And it’s the profoundly human way that we seek and find personal resonance in machine-generated text that’s the essence of this project. I was inspired by the writing of Shoshana Zuboff on the “information civilization”—she writes, “If the digital future is to be our home then it is we who must make it so.”
Here’s my POEMPORTRAIT; the word I chose to donate was “convergence.”