What Happens When Someone Crochets Stuffed Animals Using Instructions from ChatGPT

Alex Wool­ner knows how to put a degree in Eng­lish to good use.

Past projects include a fem­i­nist type­writer blog, retro­fitting stick­er vend­ing machines to dis­pense poet­ry, and a free res­i­den­cy pro­gram for emerg­ing artists at a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary stu­dio she co-found­ed with play­wright and painter Jason Mont­gomery in East­hamp­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts.

More recent­ly, the poet and inter­na­tion­al edu­ca­tor has com­bined her inter­est in amigu­ru­mi cro­cheted ani­mals and Chat­G­PT, the open source AI chat­bot.

Hav­ing cro­cheted an amigu­ru­mi nar­whal for a nephew ear­li­er this year, she hopped on Chat­G­PT and asked it to cre­ate “a cro­chet pat­tern for a nar­whal stuffed ani­mal using worsted weight yarn.”

The result might have dis­cour­aged anoth­er quer­ent, but Wool­ner got out her cro­chet hook and sal­lied forth, fol­low­ing Chat­G­PTs instruc­tions to the let­ter, despite a num­ber of red flags indi­cat­ing that the chatbot’s grasp of nar­whal anato­my was high­ly unre­li­able.

Its igno­rance is part of its DNA. As a large lan­guage mod­el, Chat­G­PT is capa­ble of pro­duc­ing pre­dic­tive text based on vast amounts of data in its mem­o­ry bank. But it can’t see images.

As Amit Kat­wala writes in Wired:

It has no idea what a cat looks like or even what cro­chet is. It sim­ply con­nects words that fre­quent­ly appear togeth­er in its train­ing data. The result is super­fi­cial­ly plau­si­ble pas­sages of text that often fall apart when exposed to the scruti­ny of an expert—what’s been called “flu­ent bull­shit.”

It’s also not too hot at math, a skill set knit­ters and cro­cheters bring to bear read­ing pat­terns, which traf­fic in num­bers of rows and stitch­es, indi­cat­ed by abbre­vi­a­tions that real­ly flum­mox a chat­bot.

An exam­ple of begin­ner-lev­el instruc­tions from a free down­load­able pat­tern for a cute amigu­ru­mi shark:

DORSAL FIN (gray yarn)

Rnd 1: in a mr work 3 sc, 2 hdc, 1 sc (6)

Rnd 2: 3 sc, 1 hdc inc, 1 hdc, 1 sc (7)

Rnd 3: 3 sc, 2 hdc, 1 hdc inc, 1 sc (8)

Rnd 4: 3 sc, 1 hdc inc, 3 hdc, 1 sc inc (10)

Rnd 5: 3 sc, 1 hdc, 1 hdc inc, 3 hdc, 1 sc, 1 sc inc (12)

Rnd 6: 3 sc, 6 hdc, 3 sc (12)

Rnd 7: sc even (12); F/O and leave a long strand of yarn to sew the dor­sal fin between rnds # 18–23. Do not stuff the fin.

Pity poor Chat­G­PT, though, like Wool­ner, it tried.

Their col­lab­o­ra­tion became a cause célèbre when Wool­ner debuted the “AI gen­er­at­ed nar­whal cro­chet mon­stros­i­ty” on Tik­Tok, apt­ly com­par­ing the large tusk Chat­G­PT had her posi­tion atop its head to a chef’s toque.

Is that the best AI can do?

A recent This Amer­i­can Life episode details how Sebastien Bubeck, a machine learn­ing researcher at Microsoft, com­mand­ed anoth­er large lan­guage mod­el, GPT‑4, to cre­ate code that TikZ, a vec­tor graph­ics pro­duc­er, could use to “draw” a uni­corn.

This col­lab­o­ra­tive exper­i­ment was per­haps more empir­i­cal­ly suc­cess­ful than the Chat­G­PT amigu­ru­mi pat­terns Wool­ner duti­ful­ly ren­dered in yarn and fiber­fill. This Amer­i­can Life’s David Kesten­baum was suf­fi­cient­ly awed by the result­ing image to haz­ard a guess that “when peo­ple even­tu­al­ly write the his­to­ry of this crazy moment we are in, they may include this uni­corn.”

It’s not good, but it’s a fuck­ing uni­corn. The body is just an oval. It’s got four stu­pid rec­tan­gles for legs. But there are lit­tle squares for hooves. There’s a mane, an oval for the head. And on top of the head, a tiny yel­low tri­an­gle, the horn. This is insane to say, but I felt like I was see­ing inside its head. Like it had pieced togeth­er some idea of what a uni­corn looked like and this was it.

Let’s not poo poo the mer­its of Woolner’s ongo­ing explo­rations though. As one com­menter observed, it seems she’s “found a way to instan­ti­ate the weird messed up arti­facts of AI gen­er­at­ed images in the phys­i­cal uni­verse.”

To which Wool­ner respond­ed that she “will either be spared or be one of the first to per­ish when AI takes over gov­er­nance of us meat sacks.”


In the mean­time, she’s con­tin­u­ing to har­ness Chat­G­PT to birth more mon­strous amigu­ru­mi. Ger­ald the Narwhal’s has been joined by a cat, an otter, Nor­ma the Nor­mal Fish, XL the Newt, and Skein Green, a pel­i­can bear­ing get well wish­es for author and sci­ence vlog­ger Hank Green.

When retired math­e­mati­cian Daina Taim­i­na, author of Cro­chet­ing Adven­tures with Hyper­bol­ic Planes, told the Dai­ly Beast that Ger­ald would have resem­bled a nar­whal more close­ly had Wool­ner sup­plied Chat­G­PT with more specifics, Wool­ner agreed to give it anoth­er go.

Two weeks lat­er, the Dai­ly Beast pro­nounced this attempt, nick­named Ger­ard, “even less nar­whal-look­ing than the first. Its body was a mas­sive stuffed tri­an­gle, and its tusk looked like a gum­drop at one end.”

Wool­ner dubbed Ger­ard pos­si­bly the most frus­trat­ing AI-gen­er­at­ed amigu­ru­mi of her acquain­tance, owing to an onslaught of speci­fici­ty on ChatCPT’s part. It over­loaded her with instruc­tions for every indi­vid­ual stitch, some­times call­ing for more stitch­es in a row than exist­ed in the entire pat­tern, then dipped out with­out telling her how to com­plete the body and tail.

As sil­ly as it all may seem, Wool­ner believes her Chat­G­PT amigu­ru­mi col­labs are a healthy mod­el for artists using AI tech­nol­o­gy:

I think if there are ways for peo­ple in the arts to con­tin­ue to cre­ate, but also approach AI as a tool and as a poten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tor, that is real­ly inter­est­ing. Because then we can start to branch out into com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, new art forms and cre­ative expressions—things that we couldn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly do before or didn’t have the spark or the idea to do can be explored. 

If you, like Hank Green, have fall­en for one of Woolner’s unholy cre­ations, down­load­able pat­terns are avail­able here for $2 a pop.

Those seek­ing alter­na­tives to fiber­fill are advised to stuff their amigu­ru­mi with “aban­doned hopes and dreams” or “all those free tee shirts you get from giv­ing blood and run­ning road races or what­ev­er you do for fun”.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

An Artist Cro­chets a Life-Size, Anatom­i­cal­ly-Cor­rect Skele­ton, Com­plete with Organs

A Bio­sta­tis­ti­cian Uses Cro­chet to Visu­al­ize the Fright­en­ing Infec­tion Rates of the Coro­n­avirus

Make an Adorable Cro­cheted Fred­die Mer­cury; Down­load a Free Cro­chet Pat­tern Online

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Explore the Largest Online Archive Exploring the Genius of Leonard da Vinci

We dare not spec­u­late as to what Leonar­do DaVin­ci would make of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

We are, how­ev­er, fair­ly con­fi­dent that he would love the Inter­net.

The Renais­sance-era genius applied his sophis­ti­cat­ed under­stand­ing of the human body and the nat­ur­al world to oth­er types of sys­tems, includ­ing plans for civ­il engi­neer­ing projects, mil­i­tary pro­jec­tiles, and fly­ing machines.

Google Arts & Culture’s new ini­tia­tive Inside a Genius Mind offers an inter­ac­tive expe­ri­ence of the codices in which Da Vin­ci made his sketch­es, dia­grams, and notes.

It’s also a cura­to­r­i­al col­lab­o­ra­tion between a human — Oxford art his­to­ry pro­fes­sor Mar­tin Kemp  — and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

Pro­fes­sor Kemp, author of Liv­ing with Leonar­do: Fifty Years of San­i­ty and Insan­i­ty in the Art World and Beyond, brings a life­time of rig­or­ous study and pas­sion for the sub­ject.

His non-human coun­ter­part used machine learn­ing to delve into the note­books’ con­tents, inves­ti­gat­ing some 1040 pages from 6 vol­umes and “draw­ing the­mat­ic con­nec­tions across time and sub­ject mat­ter to reflect Leonardo’s spir­it of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary imag­i­na­tion, inno­va­tion and the pro­found uni­ty at the heart of his appar­ent­ly diverse pur­suits.”

Upon launch­ing the exper­i­ment, you bush­whack your way through the indi­vid­ual codices by click­ing on the sketch­es float­ing toward you like ele­ments in a clas­sic space-themed video game, or choose to enjoy one of five curat­ed sto­ries.

We went with Earth as Body, which gath­ers sev­en pages from the UK’s Roy­al Col­lec­tion Trust’s Codex Wind­sor, and one from the Codex Leices­ter, which inspired an ani­mat­ed mod­el that should sure­ly please its cur­rent own­er, Bill Gates.


Using a dis­creet and some­what fid­dly nav­i­ga­tion bar on the left side of the screen, we toured Leonardo’s ren­der­ings of the flayed mus­cles of the upper spine, the ves­sels and nerves of the neck and liv­er, the Arno val­ley with the route of a pro­posed canal that would run from Flo­rence to Pisa, a view of the Alps from Milan, the fall of light on a face, stud­ies of optics and men in action, and obser­va­tions of the moon and earth­shine.

How are these things relat­ed?

“Leonar­do believed that the human body rep­re­sent­ed the whole nat­ur­al world in minia­ture” and the selec­tions do offer food for thought that Leonardo’s pas­sion for the under­ly­ing laws of nature is the com­mon thread run­ning through his research and art.

Each image is accom­pa­nied a but­ton invit­ing you to “explore” the work fur­ther. Click it for infor­ma­tion about dimen­sions, prove­nance, and media, as well as some tan­ta­liz­ing bio­graph­i­cal tid­bits, such as this, adapt­ed from the cat­a­logue for the 2019 exhib­it Leonar­do da Vin­ci: A Life in Draw­ing:

Leonar­do had first stud­ied anato­my in the late 1480s. By the end of his life he claimed to have per­formed 30 human dis­sec­tions, intend­ing to pub­lish an illus­trat­ed trea­tise on the sub­ject, but this was nev­er com­plet­ed, and Leonardo’s work thus had no dis­cernible impact on the dis­ci­pline. His only doc­u­ment­ed dis­sec­tion was car­ried out in the win­ter of 1507–8, when he per­formed an autop­sy on an old man whose death he had wit­nessed in a hos­pi­tal in Flo­rence. The stud­ies on this page from Leonardo’s note­book are based on that dis­sec­tion: on the ver­so Leonar­do depicts the ves­sels of the liv­er; and in notes else­where in the note­book he gives the first known clin­i­cal descrip­tion of cir­rho­sis of the liv­er.

Per­haps you’d like to cir­cum­vent the machine learn­ing and use your own genius mind to make  con­nec­tions a la Da Vin­ci?

Try mess­ing around with the AI tags. See what you can cob­ble togeth­er to forge a cohe­sive alliance between such ele­ments as wing, horse, map, musi­cal instru­ments, and spi­ral.

Or cleanse your palate by putting a mash-up of two codex sketch­es on a dig­i­tal sticky with the help of Google AI, mind­ful that the mas­ter, who lived to the ripe old age of 67, was prob­a­bly a bit more inten­tion­al with his time…

Begin your explo­rations of Google Arts & Culture’s Inside a Genius Mind here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Inge­nious Inven­tions of Leonar­do da Vin­ci Recre­at­ed with 3D Ani­ma­tion

Leonar­do Da Vinci’s To Do List (Cir­ca 1490)

A Com­plete Dig­i­ti­za­tion of Leonar­do Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanti­cus, the Largest Exist­ing Col­lec­tion of His Draw­ings & Writ­ings

How Leonar­do da Vin­ci Made His Mag­nif­i­cent Draw­ings Using Only a Met­al Sty­lus, Pen & Ink, and Chalk

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Robots Are Carving Replicas of the Parthenon Marbles: Could They Help the Real Ancient Sculptures Return to Greece?

Art forgery is a stur­dy trope of film and fic­tion. We’re all famil­iar with the spec­ta­cle of a rar­i­fied expert exam­in­ing a work, while a wealthy col­lec­tor anx­ious­ly wrings their hands near­by.

As Mag­gie Cao observes in the Guardian:

Forg­eries expose some of the art world’s most psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly com­plex fig­ures: the col­lec­tor and the coun­ter­feit­er. What com­pels the pro­to­typ­i­cal col­lec­tor to accu­mu­late objects of beau­ty is usu­al­ly a pecu­liar devo­tion to the pow­er of sin­gu­lar­i­ty. The col­lec­tor wor­ships art’s pow­er to move us, a pow­er we imag­ine emanates from unique objects. Mean­while, what moti­vates the coun­ter­feit­er is an undue con­fi­dence in the pos­si­bil­i­ties of repli­ca­tion. To deceive a view­er with a copy is to affirm that copy’s inter­change­abil­i­ty with the orig­i­nal.

But what if art forgery can be used for good?

That’s the hope of Roger Michel, founder of the Insti­tute for Dig­i­tal Archae­ol­o­gy, who employs tech­no­log­i­cal advances to pre­serve cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant objects and offer acces­si­ble tac­tile expe­ri­ences to those with vision impair­ment.

Short­ly after ISIS destroyed the Mon­u­men­tal Arch of Palymyra, he har­nessed 3D tech­nol­o­gy to recre­ate the 1800-year old land­mark in two-thirds scale Egypt­ian mar­ble.

The pub­lic was able to get up close and per­son­al with the mod­el in var­i­ous loca­tions around the world, includ­ing New York’s City Hall Park, Florence’s Piaz­za del­la Sig­no­ria, and London’s Trafal­gar Square, where Michel enjoyed watch­ing passers­by touch­ing and pho­tograph­ing the repli­ca Arch:

There are guys in Carn­a­by Street suits mixed with young peo­ple in hip-hop clothes and Syr­i­ans in tra­di­tion­al dress. It’s the cross­roads of human­i­ty, and that was what Palym­ra was.

Michel is also striv­ing to con­vince the British Muse­um that all will not be lost, should it choose to repa­tri­ate the 2,500-year-old Parthenon Mar­bles to Greece, much as the Smith­son­ian returned 29 Benin bronzes tak­en dur­ing an 1897 British raid to the Nation­al Com­mis­sion for Muse­ums and Mon­u­ments in Nige­ria.

Michel made his case with a robot­i­cal­ly carved fac­sim­i­le of the head of the Horse of Selene, above, which is all the more remark­able when one learns that he was work­ing from pho­tos tak­en on an iPhone and iPad while vis­it­ing the gallery in which it is dis­played, after the muse­um refused his request for an offi­cial scan.

The item descrip­tion on the museum’s collection’s por­tal notes that the Horse of Selene was pur­chased from Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, who took pos­ses­sion of it while serv­ing as Britain’s ambas­sador to Ottoman Turkey from 1799–1803.

(The descrip­tion neglects to men­tion that rather than allow him to adorn his home with this and oth­er ill-got­ten antiq­ui­ties, a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee ordered Lord Elgin to sell his vast col­lec­tion to the British gov­ern­ment for £35,000, which is how they wound up in the muse­um.)

Orig­i­nal­ly a part of the Parthenon’s east ped­i­ment, the Horse of Selene is such a fan favorite that the muse­um shop sells an “exquis­ite” hand-cast resin repli­ca for £1,650, promis­ing that it will make “a show-stop­ping point of focus in any home.”

Perhaps…though we’re will­ing to bet it can’t match the verisimil­i­tude of the tiny chips and chis­el marks painstak­ing­ly cap­tured by the robot carv­er, which took about about 8 days to cre­ate a rough mod­el once it received the scans, fol­lowed by some 3 weeks of refin­ing. The robot got an assist at the very end from human arti­sans, whose hand­i­work Michel calls “the cru­cial 3 to 5 per­cent.”

Gia­co­mo Mas­sari, founder of Robot­or, who part­nered with Michel on this recre­ation, vaunts the pre­ci­sion tech­nol­o­gy makes pos­si­ble:

You can rec­og­nize every scratch. You can see the flaws of the stone and you can see the chal­lenges our col­leagues from 2,000 years ago were fac­ing. It’s like going back in time — you can feel the strug­gles of the artist.

The muse­um brass appears unmoved by the prospect of swap­ping repli­cas, no mat­ter how excel­lent, for the frieze pan­els, sculp­tures, archi­tec­tur­al frag­ments and oth­er trea­sures of antiq­ui­ty Elgin shipped home from the Acrop­o­lis in the ear­ly 1800s, though the New York Times report­ed last week that secret talks with Greece’s prime min­is­ter may indi­cate the two par­ties are edg­ing clos­er to res­o­lu­tion.

This col­lec­tion has been a cul­tur­al hot pota­to since Lord Byron, tour­ing the Parthenon short­ly after Elgin made off with so many its trea­sures, denounced his avarice in a poem titled The Curse of Min­er­va:

Lo! here, despite of war and wast­ing fire,

I saw suc­ces­sive Tyran­nies expire;

‘Scaped from the rav­age of the Turk and Goth,

Thy coun­try sends a spoil­er worse than both.

Sur­vey this vacant, vio­lat­ed fane;

Recount the relics torn that yet remain:

‘These’ Cecrops placed, ‘this’ Per­i­cles adorned,

‘That’ Adri­an reared when droop­ing Sci­ence mourned.

What more I owe let Grat­i­tude attest—

Know, Alar­ic and Elgin did the rest.

That all may learn from whence the plun­der­er came,

The insult­ed wall sus­tains his hat­ed name:

For Elgin’s fame thus grate­ful Pal­las pleads,

Below, his name—above, behold his deeds!

The New York Times quot­ed a mid­dle-aged Lon­don bus dri­ver who voiced the opin­ion, as did the vast major­i­ty of respon­dents to a British sur­vey, that the Parthenon sculp­tures should be returned to their land of ori­gin, remark­ing, “It’s like the Crown Jew­els. If some­one took those, you’d want them back, wouldn’t you?”

His argu­ment is a hard one to refute in an age when the inno­v­a­tive tech­ni­cal solu­tions pro­mot­ed by Michel and the Insti­tute for Dig­i­tal Archae­ol­o­gy cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties that Lord Elgin and muse­um vis­i­tors of yore could nev­er have envi­sioned.

The pub­lic invi­ta­tion to the Novem­ber 2022 unveil­ing of the Selene Horse repli­ca stat­ed that “Britain’s stew­ard­ship of the Elgin mar­bles embod­ies a psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly com­plex sto­ry of obses­sion, pos­ses­sion, and assim­i­la­tion — so far with­out res­o­lu­tion”, ask­ing:

Might per­fect copies, ren­dered in sacred Pen­tel­ic mar­ble, sug­gest a pos­si­ble path for­ward?

Read­ers, what say you?

Relat­ed Con­tent

John Oliver’s Show on World-Class Art Muse­ums & Their Loot­ed Art: Watch It Free Online

Take a Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Tour of the World’s Stolen Art

The British Muse­um Is Now Open To Every­one: Take a Vir­tu­al Tour and See 4,737 Arti­facts, Includ­ing the Roset­ta Stone

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Discover DALL‑E, the Artificial Intelligence Artist That Lets You Create Surreal Artwork

DALL‑E, an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tem that gen­er­ates viable-look­ing art in a vari­ety of styles in response to user sup­plied text prompts, has been gar­ner­ing a lot of inter­est since it debuted this spring.

It has yet to be released to the gen­er­al pub­lic, but while we’re wait­ing, you could have a go at DALL‑E Mini, an open source AI mod­el that gen­er­ates a grid of images inspired by any phrase you care to type into its search box.

Co-cre­ator Boris Day­ma explains how DALL‑E Mini learns by view­ing mil­lions of cap­tioned online images:

Some of the con­cepts are learnt (sic) from mem­o­ry as it may have seen sim­i­lar images. How­ev­er, it can also learn how to cre­ate unique images that don’t exist such as “the Eif­fel tow­er is land­ing on the moon” by com­bin­ing mul­ti­ple con­cepts togeth­er.

Sev­er­al mod­els are com­bined togeth­er to achieve these results:

• an image encoder that turns raw images into a sequence of num­bers with its asso­ci­at­ed decoder

• a mod­el that turns a text prompt into an encod­ed image

• a mod­el that judges the qual­i­ty of the images gen­er­at­ed for bet­ter fil­ter­ing 

My first attempt to gen­er­ate some art using DALL‑E mini failed to yield the hoped for weird­ness.  I blame the bland­ness of my search term — “toma­to soup.”

Per­haps I’d have bet­ter luck “Andy Warhol eat­ing a bowl of toma­to soup as a child in Pitts­burgh.”

Ah, there we go!

I was curi­ous to know how DALL‑E Mini would riff on its name­sake artist’s han­dle (an hon­or Dali shares with the tit­u­lar AI hero of Pixar’s 2018 ani­mat­ed fea­ture, WALL‑E.)

Hmm… seems like we’re back­slid­ing a bit.

Let me try “Andy Warhol eat­ing a bowl of toma­to soup as a child in Pitts­burgh with Sal­vador Dali.”

Ye gods! That’s the stuff of night­mares, but it also strikes me as pret­ty legit mod­ern art. Love the spar­ing use of red. Well done, DALL‑E mini.

At this point, van­i­ty got the bet­ter of me and I did the AI art-gen­er­at­ing equiv­a­lent of googling my own name, adding “in a tutu” because who among us hasn’t dreamed of being a bal­le­ri­na at some point?

Let that be a les­son to you, Pan­do­ra…

Hope­ful­ly we’re all plan­ning to use this play­ful open AI tool for good, not evil.

Hyperallergic’s Sarah Rose Sharp raised some valid con­cerns in rela­tion to the orig­i­nal, more sophis­ti­cat­ed DALL‑E:

It’s all fun and games when you’re gen­er­at­ing “robot play­ing chess” in the style of Matisse, but drop­ping machine-gen­er­at­ed imagery on a pub­lic that seems less capa­ble than ever of dis­tin­guish­ing fact from fic­tion feels like a dan­ger­ous trend.

Addi­tion­al­ly, DALL‑E’s neur­al net­work can yield sex­ist and racist images, a recur­ring issue with AI tech­nol­o­gy. For instance, a reporter at Vice found that prompts includ­ing search terms like “CEO” exclu­sive­ly gen­er­at­ed images of White men in busi­ness attire. The com­pa­ny acknowl­edges that DALL‑E “inher­its var­i­ous bias­es from its train­ing data, and its out­puts some­times rein­force soci­etal stereo­types.”

Co-cre­ator Day­ma does not duck the trou­bling impli­ca­tions and bias­es his baby could unleash:

While the capa­bil­i­ties of image gen­er­a­tion mod­els are impres­sive, they may also rein­force or exac­er­bate soci­etal bias­es. While the extent and nature of the bias­es of the DALL·E mini mod­el have yet to be ful­ly doc­u­ment­ed, giv­en the fact that the mod­el was trained on unfil­tered data from the Inter­net, it may gen­er­ate images that con­tain stereo­types against minor­i­ty groups. Work to ana­lyze the nature and extent of these lim­i­ta­tions is ongo­ing, and will be doc­u­ment­ed in more detail in the DALL·E mini mod­el card.

The New York­er car­toon­ists Ellis Rosen and Jason Adam Katzen­stein con­jure anoth­er way in which DALL‑E mini could break with the social con­tract:

And a Twit­ter user who goes by St. Rev. Dr. Rev blows minds and opens mul­ti­ple cans of worms, using pan­els from car­toon­ist Joshua Bark­man’s beloved web­com­ic, False Knees:

Pro­ceed with cau­tion, and play around with DALL‑E mini here.

Get on the wait­list for orig­i­nal fla­vor DALL‑E access here.


Relat­ed Con­tent

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Brings to Life Fig­ures from 7 Famous Paint­ings: The Mona Lisa, Birth of Venus & More

Google App Uses Machine Learn­ing to Dis­cov­er Your Pet’s Look Alike in 10,000 Clas­sic Works of Art

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence for Every­one: An Intro­duc­to­ry Course from Andrew Ng, the Co-Founder of Cours­era

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Remembering Dave Smith (RIP), the Father of MIDI & the Creator of the 80s’ Most Beloved Synthesizer, the Prophet‑5

Some founders rest on their lau­rels, build indus­tries around them­selves like a cocoon, and nev­er escape or out­grow the big achieve­ment that made their name. Some, like Dave Smith — the so-called “father of MIDI,” and one of the most inno­v­a­tive syn­the­siz­er pio­neers of the last sev­er­al decades – don’t stop cre­at­ing for long enough to col­lect dust. You may nev­er have heard of Smith, but you’ve heard his tech­nol­o­gy. Before pio­neer­ing MIDI (Musi­cal Instru­ment Dig­i­tal Inter­face), the dig­i­tal stan­dard that allows hun­dreds of elec­tron­ic instru­ments to play nice­ly with each oth­er across com­put­er and soft­ware mak­ers, Smith found­ed Sequen­tial Cir­cuits and built one of the most revered syn­the­siz­ers ever made, the Prophet‑5, invent­ed in 1977 and essen­tial to the sound of the 1980s and beyond.

Smith’s key­boards made appear­ances on stage, video, and albums through­out the decade. Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes used the Prophet‑5 on the band’s first album and “vir­tu­al­ly every record I have made since then,” he said in a state­ment. “With­out Dav­e’s vision and inge­nu­ity,” Rhodes went on, “the sound of the 1980s would have been very dif­fer­ent, he tru­ly changed the son­ic sound­scape of a gen­er­a­tion.”

Sequen­tial synths appeared on albums by bands as dis­parate as The Cure and Daryl Hall & John Oates, who demon­strate the dream-like, ethe­re­al capa­bil­i­ties of the Prophet‑5 — the first ful­ly pro­gram­ma­ble poly­phon­ic ana­log synth — in “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).” The Prophet‑5 also drove the sound of Radio­head­’s Kid A, and indie dance dar­lings Hot Chip wrote they would be “noth­ing with­out what [Smith] cre­at­ed.” Few vin­tage synths are as desir­able as the Prophet‑5.

The orig­i­nal Prophet is “not immune to the dark side of vin­tage synths,” writes Vin­tage Synth Explor­er, includ­ing prob­lems such as unsta­ble tun­ing and a lack of MIDI. Smith fixed that issue him­self with new iter­a­tions of the Prophet and oth­er synths fea­tur­ing his most famous post-Prophet‑5 tech­nol­o­gy. “Like so many bril­liant and cre­ative peo­ple,” the MIDI Asso­ci­a­tion writes, Smith “always focused on the future.” He was “not actu­al­ly a big fan of being called the ‘Father of MIDI.’ ” Many peo­ple con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of the tech­nol­o­gy, espe­cial­ly Roland founder Iku­taro Kake­hashi, who won a tech­ni­cal Gram­my with Smith in 2013 for the pro­to­col that made its debut as a new stan­dard in 1983.

Smith pre­ferred mak­ing hard­ware instru­ments and “almost begrudg­ing­ly accept­ed inter­views about his con­tri­bu­tions to MIDI.…. He was also not a big fan of orga­ni­za­tions, com­mit­tees and meet­ings.” He was a synth lover’s synth mak­er, a design­er and engi­neer with a “deep under­stand­ing of what musi­cians want­ed,” says Rhodes. Col­lab­o­ra­tions with Yama­ha and Korg pro­duced more soft­ware inno­va­tions in the 90s, but in the 2000s, Smith returned to Sequen­tial Cir­cuits and debuted the Prophet X, Prophet‑6, and OB‑6 with Tom Ober­heim. The two design­ers col­lab­o­rat­ed in 2021 on the Ober­heim OB-X8 and Smith intro­duced it just weeks before his death.

He had trav­eled a long way from invent­ing the Prophet‑5 in 1977 and pre­sent­ing a paper in 1981 to the Audio Engi­neer­ing Soci­ety on what he then called a Uni­ver­sal Syn­the­siz­er Inter­face. Smith him­self nev­er seemed to stop and look back, but lovers of his famous instru­ments are hap­py we still can, and that elec­tron­ic instru­ments and com­put­ers can talk to each oth­er eas­i­ly thanks to MIDI. Few of those instru­ments sound as good as the orig­i­nal, how­ev­er. See a demon­stra­tion of the Prophet-5’s range of sounds in the video just above and hear more tracks that show off the synth in the list here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sto­ry of the Syn­thAxe, the Aston­ish­ing 1980s Gui­tar Syn­the­siz­er: Only 100 Were Ever Made

Wendy Car­los Demon­strates the Moog Syn­the­siz­er on the BBC (1970)

Thomas Dol­by Explains How a Syn­the­siz­er Works on a Jim Hen­son Kids Show (1989)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The Animated Map of Quantum Computing: A Visual Introduction to the Future of Computing

If you lis­ten to the hype sur­round­ing quan­tum com­put­ing, you might think the near future shown in Alex Gar­land’s sci-fi series Devs is upon us — that we have com­put­ers com­plex enough to recre­ate time and space and recon­struct the human mind. Far from it. At this still-ear­ly stage, quan­tum com­put­ers promise much more than they can deliv­er, but the tech­nol­o­gy is “poised,” writes IBM “to trans­form the way you work in research.” The com­pa­ny does have — as do most oth­er oth­er big mak­ers of what are now called “clas­si­cal com­put­ers” — a “roadmap” for imple­ment­ing quan­tum com­put­ing and a lot of cool new tech­nol­o­gy (such as the quan­tum run­time envi­ron­ment Quiskit) built around the qubit, the quan­tum com­put­er ver­sion of the clas­si­cal bit.

The com­put­er bit, as we know, is a bina­ry enti­ty: either 1 or 0 and noth­ing in-between. The qubit, on the oth­er hand, mim­ics quan­tum phe­nom­e­na by remain­ing in a state of super­po­si­tion of all pos­si­ble states between 1 and 0 until users inter­act with it, like a spin­ning coin that only lands on one face if it’s phys­i­cal­ly engaged. And like quan­tum par­ti­cles, qubits can become entan­gled with each oth­er. Thus, “Quan­tum com­put­ers work excep­tion­al­ly well for mod­el­ing oth­er quan­tum sys­tems,” writes Microsoft, “because they use quan­tum phe­nom­e­na in their com­pu­ta­tion.” The pos­si­bil­i­ties are thrilling, and a lit­tle unset­tling, but no one’s mod­el­ing the uni­verse, or even a part of it, just quite yet.

“Use cas­es are large­ly exper­i­men­tal and hypo­thet­i­cal at this ear­ly stage,” McK­in­sey Dig­i­tal writes in a report for busi­ness­es, while also not­ing that usable quan­tum sys­tems may be on the mar­ket as ear­ly as 2030. If the roadmaps serve, that’s just around the cor­ner, espe­cial­ly giv­en how quick­ly quan­tum com­put­ers have evolved in rela­tion to their (expo­nen­tial­ly slow­er) clas­si­cal fore­bears. “From the first idea of a quan­tum com­put­er in 1980 [an idea attrib­uted to Nobel prize-win­ning physi­cist Richard Feyn­man] to today, there has been a huge growth in the quan­tum com­put­ing indus­try, espe­cial­ly in the last ten years,” says Dominic Wal­li­man in the video above, “with dozens of com­pa­nies and star­tups spend­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in a race to build the world’s best quan­tum com­put­ers.”

Wal­li­man offers not only a (non-hyped) map of the pos­si­ble future, but also a map of quan­tum com­put­ing’s past. He promis­es to clear up mis­con­cep­tions we might have about the “dif­fer­ent kinds of quan­tum com­put­ing, how they work, and why so many peo­ple are invest­ing in the quan­tum com­put­ing indus­try.” We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly seen Wal­li­man’s Domain of Sci­ence chan­nel do the same for such huge fields of sci­en­tif­ic study as physics, chem­istry, math, and clas­si­cal com­put­er sci­ence. Here, he presents cut­ting-edge sci­ence on the cusp of real­iza­tion, explain­ing three essen­tial ideas — super­po­si­tion, entan­gle­ment, and inter­fer­ence — that gov­ern quan­tum com­put­ing. The pri­ma­ry dif­fer­ence between quan­tum and clas­si­cal com­put­ing from the point of view of non-spe­cial­ists is algo­rith­mic speed: while clas­si­cal com­put­ers could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly per­form the same com­plex func­tions as their quan­tum cousins, they would take ages to do so, or would halt and fiz­zle out in the attempt.

Will quan­tum com­put­ers be able to sim­u­late nature down to the sub­atom­ic lev­el in the future? McK­in­sey cau­tions, “experts are still debat­ing the most foun­da­tion­al top­ics for the field.” Despite the indus­try’s rapid growth, “it’s not yet clear,” Wal­li­man says, “which approach” among the many he sur­veys “will win out in the long run.” But if the roadmaps serve, we may not have to wait long to find out.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Map of Com­put­er Sci­ence: New Ani­ma­tion Presents a Sur­vey of Com­put­er Sci­ence, from Alan Tur­ing to “Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty”

The Map of Physics: Ani­ma­tion Shows How All the Dif­fer­ent Fields in Physics Fit Togeth­er

The Map of Chem­istry: New Ani­ma­tion Sum­ma­rizes the Entire Field of Chem­istry in 12 Min­utes

The Map of Math­e­mat­ics: Ani­ma­tion Shows How All the Dif­fer­ent Fields in Math Fit Togeth­er

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

M.I.T. Computer Program Predicts in 1973 That Civilization Will End by 2040

In 1704, Isaac New­ton pre­dict­ed the end of the world some­time around (or after, “but not before”) the year 2060, using a strange series of math­e­mat­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions. Rather than study what he called the “book of nature,” he took as his source the sup­posed prophe­cies of the book of Rev­e­la­tion. While such pre­dic­tions have always been cen­tral to Chris­tian­i­ty, it is star­tling for mod­ern peo­ple to look back and see the famed astronomer and physi­cist indulging them. For New­ton, how­ev­er, as Matthew Stan­ley writes at Sci­ence, “lay­ing the foun­da­tion of mod­ern physics and astron­o­my was a bit of a sideshow. He believed that his tru­ly impor­tant work was deci­pher­ing ancient scrip­tures and uncov­er­ing the nature of the Chris­t­ian reli­gion.”

Over three hun­dred years lat­er, we still have plen­ty of reli­gious doom­say­ers pre­dict­ing the end of the world with Bible codes. But in recent times, their ranks have seem­ing­ly been joined by sci­en­tists whose only pro­fessed aim is inter­pret­ing data from cli­mate research and sus­tain­abil­i­ty esti­mates giv­en pop­u­la­tion growth and dwin­dling resources. The sci­en­tif­ic pre­dic­tions do not draw on ancient texts or the­ol­o­gy, nor involve final bat­tles between good and evil. Though there may be plagues and oth­er hor­ri­ble reck­on­ings, these are pre­dictably causal out­comes of over-pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion rather than divine wrath. Yet by some strange fluke, the sci­ence has arrived at the same apoc­a­lyp­tic date as New­ton, plus or minus a decade or two.

The “end of the world” in these sce­nar­ios means the end of mod­ern life as we know it: the col­lapse of indus­tri­al­ized soci­eties, large-scale agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, sup­ply chains, sta­ble cli­mates, nation states…. Since the late six­ties, an elite soci­ety of wealthy indus­tri­al­ists and sci­en­tists known as the Club of Rome (a fre­quent play­er in many con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries) has fore­seen these dis­as­ters in the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry. One of the sources of their vision is a com­put­er pro­gram devel­oped at MIT by com­put­ing pio­neer and sys­tems the­o­rist Jay For­rester, whose mod­el of glob­al sus­tain­abil­i­ty, one of the first of its kind, pre­dict­ed civ­i­liza­tion­al col­lapse in 2040. “What the com­put­er envi­sioned in the 1970s has by and large been com­ing true,” claims Paul Rat­ner at Big Think.

Those pre­dic­tions include pop­u­la­tion growth and pol­lu­tion lev­els, “wors­en­ing qual­i­ty of life,” and “dwin­dling nat­ur­al resources.” In the video at the top, see Aus­trali­a’s ABC explain the computer’s cal­cu­la­tions, “an elec­tron­ic guid­ed tour of our glob­al behav­ior since 1900, and where that behav­ior will lead us,” says the pre­sen­ter. The graph spans the years 1900 to 2060. “Qual­i­ty of life” begins to sharply decline after 1940, and by 2020, the mod­el pre­dicts, the met­ric con­tracts to turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry lev­els, meet­ing the sharp increase of the “Zed Curve” that charts pol­lu­tion lev­els. (ABC revis­it­ed this report­ing in 1999 with Club of Rome mem­ber Kei­th Suter.)

You can prob­a­bly guess the rest—or you can read all about it in the 1972 Club of Rome-pub­lished report Lim­its to Growth, which drew wide pop­u­lar atten­tion to Jay Forrester’s books Urban Dynam­ics (1969) and World Dynam­ics (1971). For­rester, a fig­ure of New­ton­ian stature in the worlds of com­put­er sci­ence and man­age­ment and sys­tems theory—though not, like New­ton, a Bib­li­cal prophe­cy enthusiast—more or less endorsed his con­clu­sions to the end of his life in 2016. In one of his last inter­views, at the age of 98, he told the MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review, “I think the books stand all right.” But he also cau­tioned against act­ing with­out sys­tem­at­ic think­ing in the face of the glob­al­ly inter­re­lat­ed issues the Club of Rome omi­nous­ly calls “the prob­lem­at­ic”:

Time after time … you’ll find peo­ple are react­ing to a prob­lem, they think they know what to do, and they don’t real­ize that what they’re doing is mak­ing a prob­lem. This is a vicious [cycle], because as things get worse, there is more incen­tive to do things, and it gets worse and worse.

Where this vague warn­ing is sup­posed to leave us is uncer­tain. If the cur­rent course is dire, “unsys­tem­at­ic” solu­tions may be worse? This the­o­ry also seems to leave pow­er­ful­ly vest­ed human agents (like Exxon’s exec­u­tives) whol­ly unac­count­able for the com­ing col­lapse. Lim­its to Growth—scoffed at and dis­parag­ing­ly called “neo-Malthu­sian” by a host of lib­er­tar­i­an crit­ics—stands on far sur­er evi­den­tiary foot­ing than Newton’s weird pre­dic­tions, and its cli­mate fore­casts, notes Chris­t­ian Par­en­ti, “were alarm­ing­ly pre­scient.” But for all this doom and gloom it’s worth bear­ing in mind that mod­els of the future are not, in fact, the future. There are hard times ahead, but no the­o­ry, no mat­ter how sophis­ti­cat­ed, can account for every vari­able.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2018.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1953, a Tele­phone-Com­pa­ny Exec­u­tive Pre­dicts the Rise of Mod­ern Smart­phones and Video Calls

In 1922, a Nov­el­ist Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like in 2022: Wire­less Tele­phones, 8‑Hour Flights to Europe & More

In 1704, Isaac New­ton Pre­dicts the World Will End in 2060

It’s the End of the World as We Know It: The Apoc­a­lypse Gets Visu­al­ized in an Inven­tive Map from 1486

Watch the Destruc­tion of Pom­peii by Mount Vesu­vius, Re-Cre­at­ed with Com­put­er Ani­ma­tion (79 AD)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Take an Intellectual Odyssey with a Free MIT Course on Douglas Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

In 1979, math­e­mati­cian Kurt Gödel, artist M.C. Esch­er, and com­pos­er J.S. Bach walked into a book title, and you may well know the rest. Dou­glas R. Hof­s­tadter won a Pulitzer Prize for Gödel, Esch­er, Bach: an Eter­nal Gold­en Braid, his first book, thence­forth (and hence­forth) known as GEB. The extra­or­di­nary work is not a trea­tise on math­e­mat­ics, art, or music, but an essay on cog­ni­tion through an explo­ration of all three — and of for­mal sys­tems, recur­sion, self-ref­er­ence, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, etc. Its pub­lish­er set­tled on the pithy descrip­tion, “a metaphor­i­cal fugue on minds and machines in the spir­it of Lewis Car­roll.”

GEB attempt­ed to reveal the mind at work; the minds of extra­or­di­nary indi­vid­u­als, for sure, but also all human minds, which behave in sim­i­lar­ly unfath­omable ways. One might also describe the book as oper­at­ing in the spir­it — and the prac­tice — of Her­man Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, a nov­el Hesse wrote in response to the data-dri­ven machi­na­tions of fas­cism and their threat to an intel­lec­tu­al tra­di­tion he held par­tic­u­lar­ly dear. An alter­nate title (and key phrase in the book) Mag­is­ter Ludi, puns on both “game” and “school,” and alludes to the impor­tance of play and free asso­ci­a­tion in the life of the mind.

Hesse’s eso­teric game, writes his biog­ra­ph­er Ralph Freed­man, con­sists of “con­tem­pla­tion, the secrets of the Chi­nese I Ching and West­ern math­e­mat­ics and music” and seems sim­i­lar enough to Hof­s­tadter’s approach and that of the instruc­tors of MIT’s open course, Gödel, Esch­er, Bach: A Men­tal Space Odyssey. Offered through the High School Stud­ies Pro­gram as a non-cred­it enrich­ment course, it promis­es “an intel­lec­tu­al vaca­tion” through “Zen Bud­dhism, Log­ic, Meta­math­e­mat­ics, Com­put­er Sci­ence, Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence, Recur­sion, Com­plex Sys­tems, Con­scious­ness, Music and Art.”

Stu­dents will not study direct­ly the work of Gödel, Esch­er, and Bach but rather “find their spir­its aboard our men­tal ship,” the course descrip­tion notes, through con­tem­pla­tions of canons, fugues, strange loops, and tan­gled hier­ar­chies. How do mean­ing and form arise in sys­tems like math and music? What is the rela­tion­ship of fig­ure to ground in art? “Can recur­sion explain cre­ativ­i­ty,” as one of the course notes asks. Hof­s­tadter him­self has pur­sued the ques­tion beyond the entrench­ment of AI research in big data and brute force machine learn­ing. For all his daunt­ing eru­di­tion and chal­leng­ing syn­the­ses, we must remem­ber that he is play­ing a high­ly intel­lec­tu­al game, one that repli­cates his own expe­ri­ence of think­ing.

Hof­s­tadter sug­gests that before we can under­stand intel­li­gence, we must first under­stand cre­ativ­i­ty. It may reveal its secrets in com­par­a­tive analy­ses of the high­est forms of intel­lec­tu­al play, where we see the clever for­mal rules that gov­ern the mind’s oper­a­tions; the blind alleys that explain its fail­ures and lim­i­ta­tions; and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of ever actu­al­ly repro­duc­ing work­ings in a machine. Watch the lec­tures above, grab a copy of Hofstadter’s book, and find course notes, read­ings, and oth­er resources for the fas­ci­nat­ing course Gödel, Esch­er, Bach: A Men­tal Space Odyssey archived here. The course will be added to our list, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How a Bach Canon Works. Bril­liant.

Math­e­mat­ics Made Vis­i­ble: The Extra­or­di­nary Math­e­mat­i­cal Art of M.C. Esch­er

The Mir­ror­ing Mind: An Espres­so-Fueled Inter­pre­ta­tion of Dou­glas Hofstadter’s Ground­break­ing Ideas

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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