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Google's Trafalgar Square lion uses AI to generate crowdsourced poem

It’s an installation at the London Design Festival.
Mallory Locklear, @mallorylocklear
September 18, 2018
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In London's Trafalgar Square, four lions sit at the base of Nelson's Column. But starting today, there will be a fifth. Google Arts & Culture and designer Es Devlin have created a public sculpture for the London Design Festival. It's a lion that over the course of the festival will generate a collective poem by using input from the public and artificial intelligence.

The neural network running the installation was trained on 25 million words of 19th century poetry and when passersby "feed" the lion a word via a Pixelbook, the lion will generate a line of original poetry. The new bit of poetry will light up inside of the lion's mouth and as the poem grows, it will be projected onto the lion and Nelson's Column.

Devlin said that the idea for the installation came from a comment made by John Sorrell, chair of the London Design Festival. While the two were walking through Trafalgar Square during last year's festival, Devlin recalls Sorrell telling her that Edwin Landseer, the artist who sculpted the lions, didn't want the lions to look so passive, but Queen Victoria didn't like the more animated stance he proposed. "The thought lodged in my mind," Devlin said. "What if we could invest the lion with a diversely crowd-sourced collective poetic voice?"

You can also submit words online here if you're not in London, and each day's poem will be published here. The festival runs from September 18th through the 23rd.

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