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.