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Machine Learning

Douglas Coupland fuses AI and art to inspire students

Have you ever noticed that the word art is embedded in the phrase artificial intelligence? Neither did we, but when the opportunity presented itself to explore how artificial intelligence (AI) inspires artistic expression — with the help of internationally renowned Canadian artist Douglas Coupland — the Google Research team jumped on it. This collaboration, with the support of Google Arts & Culture, culminated in a project called Slogans for the Class of 2030, which spotlights the experiences of the first generation of young people whose lives are fully intertwined with the existence of AI. 

This collaboration was brought to life by first introducing Coupland’s written work to a machine learning language model. Machine learning is a form of AI that provides computer systems the ability to automatically learn from data. In this case, Google research scientists tuned a machine learning algorithm with Coupland’s 30-year body of written work — more than a million words — so it would familiarize itself with the author’s unique style of writing. From there, curated general-public social media posts on selected topics were added to teach the algorithm how to craft short-form, topical statements.

Once the algorithm was trained, the next step was to process and reassemble suggestions of text for Coupland to use as inspiration to create twenty-five Slogans for the Class of 2030

“I would comb through ‘data dumps’ where characters from one novel were speaking with those in other novels in ways that they might actually do. It felt like I was encountering a parallel universe Doug,” Coupland says. “And from these outputs, the statements you see here in this project appeared like gems. Did I write them? Yes. No. Could they have existed without me? No.”

A common theme in Coupland’s work is the investigation of the human condition through the lens of pop culture. The focus on the class of 2030 was intentional. Coupland wanted to create works that would serve as inspiration for students in their early teens who will be graduating from universities in 2030. For those teens considering their future career paths, he hoped that this collaboration would trigger a broader conversation on the vast possibilities in the field and would acquaint them with the fact that AI does not have to be strictly scientific, it can be artful.

Unveiled today, all 25 thought-provoking and visually rich digital slogans are yours to experience on Google Arts & Culture alongside Coupland’s artistic statement and other behind-the-scenes material. This isn’t Douglas’ first collaboration with Google Arts & Culture; in 2019 Coupland’s Vancouver art exhibition was captured virtually. In 2015 and 2016, he joined theGoogle Arts & Culture Lab residency in Paris where he collaborated with engineers to develop many works including theSearch book andthe Living Internet

In an effort to celebrate local talent and culture, multiple venues across Canada have signed on to project the slogans, for a limited time, on larger-than-life digital screens allowing curious minds to experience them in an immersive way. The screens include the Terry Fox Memorial Plaza at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver B. C., the TELUS Len Werry building in downtown Calgary, TELUS Harbour in downtown Toronto and select Pattison digital screens across Canada.     

Technology has always played a role in creating new types of possibilities that inspire artists — from the sounds of distortion to the electronic sounds of synths for musicians for example. Today, advances in AI are opening up new possibilities for other forms of art and we look forward to seeing what the crossroads of art and technology bring to life.