Anna Ridler Artist – CAS AI Image Art talk 2023 transcript


All material is copyright Anna Ridler, all rights reserved. The Computer Arts Society CAS talk AI & Image Art, 1 June 2023. For the full video please visit the CAS Talks page

Visit Anna Ridler’s website 

Anna Ridler
Anna Ridler’s Myriad (Tulips)

It was really interesting hearing both of your talks [Geoff and Luba], and especially it’s always a pleasure to speak after Luba because, as she mentioned, we have been working together quite closely for the past five, six, seven years has it been? And it’s been really interesting to see how the space has evolved in that time, especially now with the recent advancements in these diffusion models and the text to image models. I’m most well known for my Tulip projects, which I will talk about. But I did also want to which I made using Gans. I want to touch on how the field has changed, because now when you talk about AI art, it does now have, I think, like if you go on Twitter or if you go on Discord, it very much is being used to refer to a very particular type of work, which is this text to image work. What I’m showing now is just some very quick examples of Dall-E Tulips that I made. I was actually very lucky, and I was one of the first people to get access to Dall-E back when it was released.

And I found it actually really difficult to make work with. And it’s taken me a long time to get my hands into things like stable diffusion and Daly and mid journey to make work with because I find that the way that it’s structured and the way that it’s designed, particularly with Daly, I found it really you have no access to the code base. You have no access to the data set. There’s no way that you can tinker with it. And you’re very reliant on an API and everything is closed off. So as an artist who’s very interested in the tools and the means of production, I found it very difficult to get into and work with. I mean, that is changing. I still think there are conceptually interesting things that you can do with it. There’s really interesting research that is coming out around how it relates to memory and how it relates to and you can do some interesting things around language and ontology, but because for the most part, it’s locked away. And even when you’re working with stable diffusion, I find that you can’t look through all of the data and you can fine tune it, but you’re always going to be working off the base of the like the massive lion data set.

But for me, it’s been a long time to get to a place where I think I can do something with it. And that being said, there’s so much being produced every day with it. It does feel like magic when you play with it. I remember the first time I typed something in and got these images out. It did feel so incredible to get it. But it does raise this real question about kind of, I think, what art is, because not every image is necessarily art. And I think that’s a debate that is now going on because so much is being produced and there is this question about where does the art sit? And I think for me, the art is very much like how it’s then displayed or the message that it contains and the experience that someone has through interacting with it. So, as Liber mentioned, I’m most well known for my data sets, the work that I do with data sets. And this isn’t something that is just explicitly linked with machine learning. It’s something that I’ve worked with for a much longer period of time.

I’ve always been interested in archives and libraries and data and information because for me, like every piece of data, every piece of information is a trace of something that once existed. In many ways, I feel like reconstructing that data or that data set is like a very human thing to do work almost like a detective building up these bits of data to produce an idea or a story or to use it in my project. I think there are lots of interesting parallels between encyclopaedias and dictionaries and the history of those with some of the issues around machine learning and data sets that I’ve explored. This project that I showed in the previous slide, and it’s playing now, which was commissioned by the Photographers Gallery, where I essentially created my own ImageNet using Victorian and Edwardian encyclopaedias. I think one of the things that’s also really important for me and part of my practice is showcasing the labor that goes into these projects and the way of working so it’s not just for me like the final output.

It’s also how I got to that output. And so a lot of the time, I will document the process of making, and that documentation will be equally as important part of the final project as the artefact. That’s something that I come to you again and again in my work project that Luba commissioned me to make back in 2017. It was a project that really took off for me, actually, which is about Chileps, where I created a piece using a GAN. It was a Singan back then, the first one, which I trained on 10,000 images of tulips that I took myself. I didn’t make the tulips myself. I was in the Netherlands at the time working. And one of the reasons why I was really interested in tulips was I was making a comparison between Chulip Mania this was the first no speculative bubble and bitcoin and also the bubble that was going on around AI at the time. So in the gan piece shall show in a bit. The gan is controlled, the price of bitcoin. And it was a really important project for me to do.

And I spent a lot of time building this data set. And it’s you have a very different relationship to the data when you’re when you’re working with it very physically. Carrying all of these tulips was very heavy. Stripping them was very heavy. And one of the reasons why I stopped at 10,000 tulips wasn’t because it’s a very nice round number, although it is it’s because tulip season ended. So even though this was a very digital project, it was driven by the rhythms of nature. After I took these, if I can go to the next slide. After I took all of these photographs, I really wanted to display the data as an artwork in and of itself, which led to a separate piece called Myriad, where I’ve taken the photographs and showed them with some of the labels that I attached to them handwritten underneath. And for me, it was part of the way to draw the attention to all of the human decision making that sits somewhere in the chain of AI. Because at the time that this was being shown back in 2018, there wasn’t yet that discussion and bias around how human, Eric can creep into these systems.

This piece, when it was shown, and you can see on some of them that you can see my handwriting where I’ve crossed things out. And the piece, when it’s shown, is huge, and it’s around 50 m². It’s only been shown its entirety twice because you need quite a large space to put it up in. And I think it also gives people a real sense of the scale of data, because 10,000, when you scroll through on a thumb drive, you don’t really understand what that means in the way that you do when your body is physically reacting to it. So it takes a long time to walk by all of these photographs, and you get a sense of how long the process of putting it all together was and the labor, effort, energy and all of those things that sits behind creating a data set. Another reference point for this project was very much the Dutch still life, like the Golden Age Dutch painter, very heavily referenced in how I composed my data set, which is also another reason why I really like doing things myself.

You can’t well, I suppose you can now with like tools like stable diffusion and things. But at the time, you can create a data set of you can Google and ask for 10,000 images of Tulips against a black background. And one of the things that I really liked about the further comparison that I liked about like these Dutch steel lifes and the way that Gans work is that these paintings, the flowers in them can all exist at once. They’re flowers from spring and summer and autumn and winter that are combined. So they’re botanical impossibilities, these bouquets. But they’re combined using all of the fragments that the artist has got of the flowers that he’s seen, sketches and memories and things like that. So rather than copying from nature, paintings are drawing in from the experience of the painter. And for me, that’s a really nice parallel to how gowns work. They’re not merely copying images from the data set and collaging them together, but creating an imagined botanical possibility through the knowledge that it’s gained through the data set.

So I think there’s, like, that nice parallel that exists there. The other reference that I like to bring out with this project is the history of floral data sets that sit inside machine learning. This is the Iris data set, which is inside psychic learn. So every time that you’re importing that into a piece of code, you’re also importing the Iris data set, which was something that it was a data set created by Ronald Fisher, which has all this different data about Irises. So there is this history, this hidden history inside machine learning of Laurel data sets, which is also something that I quite like in this project. The final piece. This is a later made two versions of it. This is the 2019 edition that I made after StyleGAN was released. It’s three screen installation. And as I mentioned, the tulips are controlled by the price of Bitcoin becoming more stripy and open as the price goes up. The title references the disease that gives Tulips their stripes, which was also made them the most valuable at the height of Tulip mania.

And it’s asking questions around value and around notions of value and like speculation and collapsing these two different moments in history. And what I also really enjoyed about this project, because it is a very complicated project, was that through working with the data set and with the Gan, I was able to explore very different things in each part of it. So the data set piece was much more explicitly about machine learning and about the issues and ethics that maybe sit inside of it. Whereas the Gan piece was much more talking about something not really related to the technology and about like wider questions around value and notions of like speculation. I said, it’s a work that still gets exhibited quite regularly in various different variety of different institutions and cultural spaces everywhere. From like public it was on like buses in a town in Germany, just as a very pretty, moving image piece through to critical overviews as to where photography is going in different museums. And then because I know we don’t have masses amount of time, I just wanted to end with something that I often end talks that I do where I often am asked about where I see like AI art sitting.

And I can only answer for myself because I’m not a curator. But I find that I look back into history to see where it might go and I find it hard to connect to some of the early algorithmic artists. But I find it very easy to see the parallels between my practice and land and environmental artists. And I often look to them for inspiration, because land and environmental art is so much about planning. It’s so much about thinking through like all the various different possibilities and then allowing something that you can predict but you can never control, to then act on that planning. And for me, that’s the same as spending all of this time building my data set. All of this time like constructing like a model and then like pressing go and then allowing something to come out of it. And then also like there is this question about where the art sets. And in London Environmental Artists, a lot of it is in the documentation. I think for AI artists it’s also the documentation.

It’s not necessarily like the model as it runs or like the insides of what’s going on it’s the images, it’s the sound, it’s the performance that comes out of it. And so, yeah, that’s like where I wanted to end it and how even like now, I’m still amazed at the possibilities that this technology can offer and how inspirational I find out on a daily basis.


A Mountain of Pent Up Tears – children’s stories generated texts

Children’s stories this is part of the classic literature series on this blog, experiments in hybrid fiction. 

I turned out so fast, I barely looked back. (I turned to look, only to find the figure had gone.) What has gone before was the dark room.

In the far left corner lay a pile of books. The ones on the page, all full of life’s lessons; the black ones, I thought of the colorless, the dark books, my soul had never seen red in my life. These weren’t books of old stories. These were children’s stories told by old schoolboys, and children’s books have been around ever since:

This was written in the 1840s when young, red dwarfs lived in the forest. They wore their clothes brown and brown and purple. At the close of the story, the author makes the child a dwarf, the woods were too far for them to go, so they are made brown. His book is told like many children’s stories.

“This is where the forest is.”

“The forest, where do I go then?”

“In the woods. In the woods, as you said.”

“I, too, am brown.”

“Yes, I am. I am in the forest. It is the way of the forest.”

“And me?”

“Yes, too, me too.”

“And you too?”

“Yes, too.”

The forest is the only place in which these children can know what things are true. They see the forest as their only home. If they go away, then they see them as an enemy who must be conquered. But these children have all travelled over, and gone past. They’ve seen it all over again.

They know what the forest is; how it works, how things go. They can see everything. And for some reason they know that they are all in the same boat, that they can never cross over to other paths. So they know, even in that boat, what the forest means, and why it is there.

What’s behind the green, silver-tinted door. Where’s the white door? That’s not the forest, is it? The white door has never been there. What was behind that door, the door to the land?

They do not know why they were born into the woods. They think that the forest is God’s gift for them. But what’s there to be gifted for? They are the only ones, after all.

When asked how the sun comes out, and when asked why the sun comes out.

Answer: There is no one here who knows.

And they need not have seen the sun.


GD: the first 68 words of the generated text (above) was next used as the prompt to generate the text (below). The 68 words are shown in italics.

I turned out so fast, I barely looked back. (I turned to look, only to find the figure had gone.) What has gone before was the dark room.

In the far left corner lay a pile of books. The ones on the page, all full of life’s lessons; the black ones, I thought of the colorless, the dark books, my soul had never seen red in my life.  

There, I thought, was the door leading to what was yet to come. But in the darkness, an unseen figure, one I couldn’t yet recognize, looked from the left to the right, slowly. As it followed, my eyes scanned the walls, but I couldn’t find the same room. I reached out to touch the door, but the figure stayed, a blank shadow across the room, it never left the door. It seemed to vanish into nothingness.

Then came an accelerating sound, as the figure dropped, and it moved slowly back into the room.

“What have you done?” I cried, the words begins to rise up like a mountain of pent up tears. There, I found, was the door. It turned, and my body seemed to lift it, before the figure itself left to my side.

A smile appeared on my face as I looked at the room, the books filled a giant library with life and lessons, the black ones I had hoped would be my own in my own time, the colorless ones, the ones I’ve already read, the ones I’ve been looking for. They were to tell me what I would need to know, how to survive this night, to know the unknown. They were a path, a map.

In the darkest hall, the room I saw the figure enter, a pale shadow in the light. The place was dark, it was cold. He took me in, and  I felt he was going to kill me, he was taking me inside. The sound woke me, and I opened my eyes to find another shadow, a figure standing behind me. I didn’t know what he was, but I was in my own home.

That man walked towards me, eyes glow green, his eyes were gloomy, the healers he wore, his hair was matted with grey, it was grey that faded in between them. He was big, at least, if a little tall. At least I had grown the right size for this thing.  I don’t think his arms were big, so that is probably just his arms, or perhaps his face was too short for his eyes. His fingers were lank, the seated fingers were black, and  in the dimmest corner of his head was a hood, with no lights.

It was very dark, there was an open door beyond it. He held my hand like a…well, for I was small. I could tell the size of his hand. He had long grey hair in his hands. He held my hand, and I saw red, it was black, as if it was a red colour.

I thought, and in that moment, my skin was soft and shiny. In between my knees. So, I moved over and looked, in my hands, and there was a dark green hand, with red hands, I knew this was a shadow, but that doesn’t mean anything to him.

The first hand, the first hand was big, its face was black, it was large, for I was small. The black was green, its color was darker than red. I touched it, and it was cold.

The second hand was big, but the hands were dark, and had big fingers, the first hand was long and dark green, it was like a purse, I didn’t know how it was, but it was cold, in that moment, I froze.

I could only watch.


You can guess the original story from the image (below).

Little Red Riding Hood and Wolf


Photo credit

Guess the original classics – Born Into Slavery

Born into Slavery

This is a game to see if you can identify the original story author in the generated text below. It has a new title: Born Into Slavery. The generated text is followed by the classic story which was used as the prompt for the computer generation. For technical details see end.


Born Into Slavery

What would occur when the daughter came for a visit? Her daughter could not wish to come here but if she had to she was certain to be disappointed.

When her eldest daughter was in her early thirties, Mr. Smith thought it might be advisable to take her away with him to her own country. The time had been long since passed; what had gone before was now forgotten. She was quite happy at home, though she knew the consequences of her leaving the family.

Mrs. Smith, who lived on her own farm, was the more interested of the two, as she had a son she loved. She would rather she had one of her own daughters than, with him, a son. As it was she was obliged to take him along, though with a slight advantage in health and strength. The child, however, was well behaved, and was very fond of her.

The old couple would have had a child when Mrs. Smith was dead; the latter would not have died till Mr. Smith, as they thought, had been ninety years old, and with her, after him. The child, as they said, would live till old Mr. Smith had died; if that should prove impossible, they would have had an heir to one of the first families to the west of the river.

Mrs. Smith was still an old woman, she remembered; her eyes had become dim, her hands and feet were weak, her feet were dull and bent, her hands wrinkled and loose. A change from her old condition, she thought, would have been too much for her now. She had always been happy in her old condition, though always in the present mode.

This story made her do something she thought necessary for the little girl, and she went into the hall and sat down in the great old chair opposite to Mrs. Smith

A woman’s strength, she thought, was her knowledge of her father’s affairs. She knew that as long as her children could walk with her, they could not be married.

Her husband knew that too; he knew where he was going, what he was going to do, and was never the same afterwards. There was a very large number of children, her daughters, living abroad, in the most irregular manners. He had grown somewhat deaf, with a peculiar difficulty about their voices.

And Mrs. Smith never liked it when she was in any degree unhappy; she could not bear to see her men, much less her children, so miserable. Every time they came she wanted to have a chat with them. She was a woman of very little self-control, and she would have felt an extraordinary strain in talking to men in whom she was so anxious to be connected. She had grown quite aware of the dangers of these visits. She felt that she had the moral to avoid them. It was the same with her husband.

One of the dangers she had to observe was whether they should try to give her good advice on an important subject; then she could say nothing but good things about them. And she did not give you any reason why.

And so he took her into another house, where she found him dead. Here is the explanation of one of our own writers, that was born into slavery, and who has since been made a public writer.

In the first place, we say that his wife knew, but she did not have sufficient excuse for going back to him. For she had been married to his eldest son, whom he kept with her, but she had never had a son, not that she was less prone to be the subject of any kind of cruelty than any other woman.

She was a woman well grounded, and could be trusted not to become a mistress or to marry a knave. Now, the reason why Master Smith was the property of Mr. Smith was, that there were several houses there, called for the use of this one Mr. Smith, and he was not there, but was there at a different time; so he did not know him or know of his own family.

But of course this also became a reason for the destruction of his father’s property; for those other houses were to be used by Mr. Smith at a later time, and hence there was no excuse to lose them. And he knew of the condition of his father’s property, and that he had been made a public writer.

Now he said to Master Smith,
“What is the reason of your going to me at this time, that I do not go to him myself?”

“Well, I have said to him before, I do not go to him, because my father was in debt to you.”

“How did I know it?”

“He had a contract of sale of my house, for you had a lease for the premises. You and your father made a bargain, and did not pay; but he does me to make good my debt. He gave me this lease, but left the property to me.”

“What can I do for it?”

“I will not go with you.”

And Mr. Smith went away in his ship; and while he was doing this, he heard the voice of his father’s son, who was living in the ship, saying to him,

“Your father has made you a public writer, at a time when I should have told you everything that you ought to know about me; and he is coming to me to sell my property for your property, and that we must not meet there till the day after the feast.”

As it happened, at the end of his talk with Mr. Smith, who would then have come to him, he heard of the destruction of Mr. Smith’s house, and of the damage done, for a great many months afterwards, to the houses belonging to his son, because of that man’s writing; and Mr. Smith went away in his ship, that there might be no necessity of his telling Mr. Brown that he might not receive anything from him from him without reason.

And it was, at that time, a great pleasure to him to have the ship and his house in the same box, and he said nothing of it.


Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen 1813

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

“My dear Mr. Smith,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Manorfield Park is let at last?”

Mr. Smith replied that he had not.

“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”

Mr. Smith made no answer.

“Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.

You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”

This was invitation enough.

“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Manorfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”

“What is his name?”


“Is he married or single?”

“Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”

“How so? How can it affect them?”

“My dear Mr. Smith,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”

“Is that his design in settling here?”

“Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.”

“I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley may like you the best of the party.”

“My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.”

“In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of.”

“But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Mr. Bingley when he comes into the neighbourhood.”

“It is more than I engage for, I assure you.”

“But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account, for in general, you know, they visit no newcomers. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him if you do not.”

“You are over-scrupulous, surely. I dare say Mr. Bingley will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.”

“I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference.”

“They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied he; “they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters.”

“Mr. Smith, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”

“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.”

“Ah, you do not know what I suffer.”

“But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood.”

“It will be no use to us, if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them.”

“Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all.”

Mr. Smith was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.


Prompt was 10-20 words from the original. GPT-2 system by Fabrice Bellard – see the site below for credits etc.
Made on my creativity app Story Live – please visit.

Text from Gutenburg free classic ebooks

A certain amount of cherry-picking of the most grammatical and interesting generated parts, but no actual editing (moving around of words or new words). Identifying names are changed.

More of these will be posted, see the index.

Writing occupation and emotions in text generation

In August 2020 research (UAL, see credits) I examined what would happen if and when writers use a computer text generator to write articles, giving them only an image prompt. The idea was to only use professional or serious amateur writers.

Go to Index of AI research

Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness – emotion charts are after this introduction.

Can text generation help the human writing process? What do actual writers (the study respondents) think of it all?

The research examines creative and ethical concerns around the use of advanced systems, and how they will (or already do) affect stakeholders, both professional writers and serious amateurs.
Here’s the prompt image:

Prompt image man and dog
Prompt image man and dog

The results are in but I am still writing it up. So I am now dropping a few things on this blog. These are not the final results as many qualifiers need to be added, statistical definitions, significance, etc. There are over 50 charts, which is why the report is taking a long time.

More about boxplots: This is a blog about some study results boxplots. if you are not sure what it all means, please look at this first.

One question asked was whether they’d used a text generator before, someone replied ‘my unconscious’. 89% had never used a text generator before.

82 respondents from my own creativity writing app list (see below), and various professional bodies.

These are Occupation (type of writer eg, Student, Poet, Journalist etc. – see the left axis);
plotted against amount of Emotion (joy, anger etc.) in their written feedback to all the questions (summed, then scored using a sentiment analyser). (Amateur and Professional are not attached to the actual occupation, so they are on here too.)

Increased emotion values towards the right side of the chart. These plots show ranges so they only give a general visualisation.


So in the boxplot below, the most joy in responses came from Copywriters.

Perhaps they see a fantastic tool to very quickly make more copy.

Joy vs Occupation
Joy vs Occupation


The most fear in responses came from Poets and Fiction writers. Perhaps fear of losing their respect as creators of strange new worlds were no one has gone before. Or they see a fantastic tool to very quickly make them unemployed. Other and Scribbler also score on this emotion.

Fear vs Occupation
Fear vs Occupation


Would appear that Others and Scribblers are somewhat angry about something or other. More research needed! Poet and Fiction also score highly, one each here (a line).

Anger vs Occupation
Anger vs Occupation


Perhaps poets know more sad words.

Sadness vs Occupation
Sadness vs Occupation

There’s lots more charts but that will do for today. The actual stats with significance, etc., are for future viewing.

One of the simple charts:
Time Average on Study by Occupation

Graph- Time Rank Occupations
Graph- Time Rank Occupations

Game writers had 2 outliers, one person was on it for hours. Perhaps text generation is familiar to games content writers as some games have generated scenarios. Or they have a lot of spare time – to play games.

(Possibly) confirms rumour that songs are written quickly, and that lyricists and poets have flashes of inspiration quickly recorded (and so do copywriters and scientists). Or they were in a hurry to get away…
Game and Songs, Lyrics were added by people within Other definition.

Next blog – the text generation itself.
In the experiment, people were advised to use the generator to make completed works. Several people put my name in the generator, so I became the protagonist in the stories. What!

Such as this Fiction entry:
“It was nice to hear from Geoff again. He is a reminder that life is like an ant’s journey on a blade of grass across a puddle. There is no other side to reach, because the ant is surrounded on all sides. Like an ant, like all of us, Geoff has strategies for paddling. One admires only the paddling, and not especially the termination of the journey. And perhaps that’s what should be the focus of our lives: the paddling. Not journey, not the conclusion, but the sheer determination of the paddling. With a surfer, this analogy would not work, but thinking about it, ants can’t surf.”

People used the OpenAI GPT-2 text generator in a two panel design. I’m releasing this setup as a free AI text editor soon. The generator version is Text Synth by Fabrice Bellard, who is very helpful.

University of the Arts London: my tutor at UAL CCI is Professor Mick Grierson. See Credits (new window). My app is Notes Story Board, an image and text zooming canvas.

Computer-Human Hybrid AI Writing and Creative Ethics


This blog is about my 2020 research into computer text generation and the effects on professional ands amateur writers. I am working on this topic at the University of the Arts London (UAL CCI, Dir. Mick Grierson).

No-one has asked creatives or writers what they think of the new ‘AI’ systems that generate readable text and so directly threaten their jobs, and could change the way people work forever (or don’t work forever). This is a topic that directly impinges on self-worth and financial worth in more ways than anyone can imagine, although plenty are worrying.

August-October 2020

I devised an online experiment about this topic, allowing respondents to experiment with creating hybrid stories using a text generator. The people were all professional or serious amateurs (and a couple of small students) invited from my own creative writing software mailing list, a couple of writing forums, and a publisher’s writers’ forum, plus friends and relatives who generally use writing in their work. Credits are at the bottom.

Text generation

You might have heard of Google OpenAI’s GPT-2 and GPT-3. My experiment uses a generating system (Fabrice Bellard’s Text Synth, with permission)  based on GPT-2, that anyone can use. GPT-2 was used here as the model works well for idea generation and is more generally available at the time than GPT-3, which is much larger.

Note: The text generation and editing system is now a free online tool (creativity support tool or CST) at

Story Live writing with AI free online

The experimental results will feed into this blog (see Index for different aspects) and later an academic paper, and also a new book for the general public on the whole subject of computers, creativity and writing.

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Brief description of the Study

Below is a graphic of the entire online study. Each block is a page and journey was left to right from top to bottom. The three text generation and editing experiments used a similar set up to the Story Live tool.

Each writing experiment – Caption, News and Fiction – had a question afterwards, then there were more questions after the experiments (see diagram below). All this will be addressed in blogs here, along with other discussions.

The image writing prompt was the same for each experiment and for all respondents for uniformity (there is a blog on the man and dog here).

Prompt image man and dog
Prompt image man and dog
Flowchart of Study

Geoff Davis

The computer support tool (CST) from this study is Story Live writing with AI free online

My other creativity tools are Notes Story Board and Story Lite from my Story Software. For my other activities please see the home page of this site.


This study was devised and the site programmed by Geoff Davis for post-graduate research at University of London Creative Computing Institute UAL CCI 2020. The Supervisor is Professor Mick Grierson, Research Leader, UAL Creative Computing Institute.

Text Synth

Text Synth, by Fabrice Bellard, is a publicly available text generator, was used as this is the sort of system people might use outside of the study. It was also not practical to recreate (program, train, fine-tune, host) a large scale text generation system for this usability pre-study. Permission was granted to use Text Synth in the study by Fabrice Bellard Jul 7 2020.

Fabrice Bellard, coder of Text Synth.
Fabrice is an all-round genius and writes a lot of OS. Text Synth was built using the GPT-2 language model released by Google OpenAI. It is a neural network of 1.5 billion parameters based on the Transformer architecture.