Reconstructing The Lost Poems of Sappho

For sale as a clean NFT here.

What you see in the animations is a lost fragment of a larger poem, written by the poet Sappho 1500 years ago. What follows in each instance, in bold, was written by the AI, GPT-3 two months ago. 

This is a project I’ve been working on for some time with creative coder and designer, Andreion De Castro, who has brought the text to life. To understand it, I need to give you some background.

Sappho, 630-570BC, is widely considered to be one of the greatest lyrical poets, of all time. Most of her poetry is lost and what survives are just fragments – and these sentences are profoundly beautiful – with the two notable surviving poems Ode To Aphrodite and Tithonus poem. But that’s it. Everything else is just, well, fragments. 

Available to purchase as a Clean NFT here on Hic Ec Nunc.

That’s the first thing to know. The second, is that I’ve been doing a lot of creative work with GPT-3, the natural language processing artificial intelligence created by OpenAI. GPT-3 is the greatest collection of unstructured human text in the universe, every holy book, every YouTube comment, every publicly accessible article, op-ed or history book, is in there and based on that data, GPT-3 can accurately, sometimes scarily so, predict how patterns in language are completed. I saw incredible potential here and so one night, on a hunch, I took the two complete Sappho poems that still exist, prompted GPT-3 with them, and then started submitting, one by one, the fragmented, lost lines of Sappho to the artificial intelligence. 

It worked. 

GPT-3 completed the lost lines, based on the patterns it found within the first two poems, creating the first complete version of the poems lost more than a thousand years ago. 

We are selling the animations as #CleanNFTs – environmentally friendly NFT artworks on the Tezos blockchain, everyone who purchases one will help fund a second project, which is to self-publish a small collection of the work. Everyone who purchases one will have their wallet address preserved and included in the design in the book. 

I’m so glad to be able to finally share this, and I look forward sharing some of the other exciting work we’re doing in this space soon. My sincerest thanks to Andreion De Castro for his incredible coding, patience and design (he’s available for freelance work, take him up on it), look out for more from me and him and my sincerest thanks to James Yu for his council.

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