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Creating the Hummingbird Algorithm

I’m a writer – not a coder or a designer –  and I knew that my idea to include an AI algorithm in the novel was both ambitious and a little mad. So I did what I always do when my skills fall short and I asked for help. The stars aligned and I was put in touch with Sydney designer and educator Eva Harbridge – who specialises in speculative and research-based design. 


Over an intense month of online collaboration while I was on a residency at the Michael King Writers Centre in Devenport, Aotearoa, Eva and I tossed ideas back and forth, wrestled with concepts and grew increasingly excited about the synchronicity of our creative processes and what we could create, together.


The references I gave Eva to create this imaginary algorithm that could uninvent a human innovation were random and wild: Bayesian probability, the shape of a hummingbird wing, a skeletal leaf I found on a walk, the journals and diagrams of artist Paul Klee and the ideas of Jane McGonigal in her book Imaginable to name a few.



Eva worked through the research phase and came up with three concepts we could play with variously referencing orbits, lemniscates and wings and black holes. The experience of having my ideas reflected back to me in a visual format was exciting and inspired new ideas as I drafted and reworked the manuscript.




I gave Eva a variety of criteria I wanted incorporated as a way in which the algorithm might weight and sort various proposed innovations and she played with different ways these might interact.


Once we had settled on a concept Eva played with ideas for the visual style of the algorithm and how it could be presented. This blew my mind – the beauty of a visual is how it can incorporate mood and references so much more efficiently than words! We wanted something that referenced both history and the future, science and art – I burst into tears when Eva sent through the first complete image. 



The diagram in the novel purports to be the work of the Hummingbird AI – but, as yet, no AI could create what came out of Eva’s brain and this exciting collaboration.

The Hummingbird Effect

An epic, kaleidoscopic story of four women connected across time and place by an invisible thread and their determination to shape their own stories, from the acclaimed author of The Mother Fault.

Longlisted for the Stella Prize 2024
Longlisted for the Indie Book Awards 2024

Sydney Morning Herald Best Reads of the Year for 2023

One of the lucky few with a job during the Depression, Peggy’s just starting out in life. She’s a bagging girl at the Angliss meatworks in Footscray, a place buzzing with life as well as death, where the gun slaughterman Jack has caught her eye – and she his.

How is her life connected to Hilda’s, almost a hundred years later, locked inside during a plague, or La’s, further on again, a singer working shifts in a warehouse as her eggs are frozen and her voice is used by AI bots? Let alone Maz, far removed in time, diving for remnants of a past that must be destroyed? Is it by the river that runs through their stories, eternal yet constantly changing – or by the mysterious Hummingbird Project, and the great question of whether the march of progress can ever be reversed?

Propulsive, tender and engrossing, this genre-bending novel is a feast for the heart as well as the mind and senses. For fans of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come and Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House, it confirms Mildenhall as one of the most ambitious and dynamic writers in the country.

'Kate Mildenhall is such an exciting writer to read … This generous, playful novel speaks to themes of climate change, survival and holding space for each other, as well as the enduring power of female friendship.' The Guardian

‘Spellbinding, genre-defying, and powerful in its vision of the future … The Hummingbird Effect is a devastating novel that exposes the ways the future is seeded in the past.’ Australian Book Review