What might future campuses look like?
I’ve been using AI art programs for a while, getting to generate images for classes, presentations, social media, and entertainment. The nexus of automation and creativity is something I’ve been brooding about for years. But today, as the weekend draws night, I wanted to share some recent results in imagining campuses to be.
For this post I’m using Midjourney. I’ve been playing with others as well.
We started off with a very generic “imagine the future of higher education”:
Interesting to see the results. Books (top left) are a classic association. Greek columns (top right), too, for a certain way of imagining higher ed. The triangle or pyramid… not sure what to do with that.
The clouds seen from above also mystified me, until SFF Audio wrangler Jessie offered this analysis:
future = horizon and curve of the earth
higher ed = ivory tower
— SFFaudio (@SFFAudio) October 14, 2022
Jessie then added:
the realer future of higher ed is probably harder to visualize – would need to involve – digital archive stacks, torrent stacks, distributed utube podcast stacks, and hopefully some open source textbooks
— SFFaudio (@SFFAudio) October 14, 2022
But that didn’t stop our AI explorations! I asked the program to rethink itself, and it offered another set of visualizations:
Again with the sky (top right). Now we add medieval-ish spires (bottom right), which does fit another view of higher ed. The bottom left went abstract hard, while I think the to left offered a stylized book.
Then I added a stack of basic academic keywords: research, education, service, community, campus, faculty, students. The results frustrated me with their restriction, the abstraction:
Creating AI art is all about prompts and revising them, so I tried another tack, bringing in my current research agenda: “higher education after climate change.”
On the one hand those are soothing natural images, especially (for me) the bottom two. On the other – no signs of universities or colleges! Midjourney has an apparently bleak view of the subject.
I decided to force the bot into optimism by asking it to imagine a “solarpunk university.” Now the thing got creative. At least one other Midjourney user joined my impromptu project and also bid the machine to think along these lines.
The first result was heavy on nature and light on the built academic environment:
Is that a dandelion motif on the top two and bottom left? But the bottom right offers a very different view, something like Cambridge University with wind turbines. Very concise.
The round object motif persists, but now with more green. Each of those offers some more buildings.
Are those books or windows on the bottom right? Another round emphasized that theme:
Another round saw a kind of building-bulb idea:
Next up, Midjourney offered pairs of images, and some struck me as beautiful, even entrancing:
I do wonder what that giant sphere is in the sky, and might dread it.
Those images are variations on a similar idea: a large sky orb, buildings clustered underneath. I liked these enough to get just one more like it.
As a late night coda, I asked Midjourney for an ancient academic library, with shadows:
To my eye these images feel like others, historical ones. Some remind me of Richard Powers‘ science fiction book covers. More recall prog rock album covers.
There’s a lot more to say about this topic. Since art AIs work with preexisting digital images, what do they reveal about our cultural attitudes towards higher ed and its future? What about the ethical problems involved, from using said preexisting images to deflating the market for human-generated art?
Those are topics for another post or two. For now I’d like to post these images for your viewing and reflection.
PS: if other people want to make their own images, I could fire up another post to host yours.
We’re wagging the dog with AI. We’re also doing the same with our infatuation with data. We’re taking away every last shred of human freedom of thought. We’re removing our self determination and handing it over to number crunchers.
Those images look like they’re from the images-on-cards game Dixit.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Dixit-style art. But every single image is in that same style!
Once they settled on their styles, every Van Gogh painting looks like a Van Gogh and every Monet painting looks like a Monet. But I would expect, indeed demand, that an AI artist be able to draw in more than one style.
Bryan, looks like shades of Jerry Farber’s University of Tomorrowland. Given the trajectory of climate change, inequality, civil conflict, and the growth of robocolleges, what realistic images should we imagine? And what kind of social interactions will we see?