Meet Izzie, a 21st century oracle, steering the rudderless masses through life with inspirational quotes and thought-provoking images called inspiragrams.
Izzie lives on the website Inspiragram, where she dispenses wisdom to anyone with burning existential, spiritual or philosophical questions. Basically, she's a slightly loony, sometimes wise, piece of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the "mad scientist" behind it all is Dunedin-based developer Jesse Meek.
Meek was motivated to create Izzie when he became frustrated with other projects close to his heart falling through for various reasons. Seeking a little guidance himself, he decided to create, “a council of wisdom harvested from the collective insights of humanity.” Most people just punch a pillow when they’re angry, Meek built an AI.
Still a work in progress, it can occasionally require a little imagination to tease meaning from some answers. Others are whimsical and even more have genuinely resonated with the person asking. Meek knows, he's had direct feedback; one person printed out their inspiragram and posted it back to Meek with a message on the reverse side about how it helped her.
Izzie’s AI is in ‘anarchistic alpha,’ explains Meek, which means, as you might guess, the answers can be a little bit wacky. The image and quote pairing is not prefabricated, they are generated as unique responses to the questions asked. But the abstraction doesn't necessarily hinder their impact. “Humans are pattern recognisers,” says Meek. “The meaning arises in the space between the questioner and the answer.”
Various platforms function together to create Izzie. Meek says cloud-based Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure serves as the back-end and Google App Engine (GAE) the front. Izzie also uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to help her interpret human sentences and our idiosyncratic use of syntax and semantics. Information Retrieval (IR) fine-tunes the search engine and image recognition determines how best to place the text onto the image. This all happens in three seconds.
Some of the questions on Inspiragram are clearly just visitors testing out the AI's limits, with questions such as, “What is it?”, “Do you love me?” and “How to goat?” More are asked in earnest; “Should I knock off work early to play with my son?” and “When will I be at peace?”
Izzie has an answer to every question, including: “Why do hipsters continue with this swag sh*t?” and the answer comes courtesy of Soulja Boy: “Swag defines an artist, period. Lil Wayne has his super-tattooed pierces and dreads swag. Jay-Z has his New York, grown man, Beyonce and 40/40 Club swag.”
The potential for images generated on Inspiragram to spread through social media and the blogosphere is immense; all the images can be shared freely because of their Creative Commons license. But Meek didn't build the site to make money, and believes that serving ads would contradict the spirit of the project. He just wants Izzie and Inspiragram to help people out of their personal ruts. It's a labour of love, born out of anger.
Izzie would be proud.