AI Poetry Camera? Seriously? – On my Om

Some days randomly remind you of the uniqueness of the place you call home. Yesterday was one of those days. I met Ryan Mather, who works for Sudowrite*, for coffee. He was in town for the Figma Design Conference. We chatted about writing, books, and how I use “AI” in my process. We discussed what I would want from the process of writing a book with the help of AI. David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” in a conversation with NPR, put it best:

“If a writer wants to play around with AI as the writer and see if it helps him, I mean, I regard it as no different than him having a thesaurus or a dictionary on his desk or a book of quotable quotes. Play around with it.”

As a former journalist, and now as a (part-time investor and a) full-time creator, I can easily divide the writing process into two distinct halves — the creative part, which occurs in my brain, and the mechanical part, which includes tasks such as copy editing, research, and sourcing information. AI can significantly accelerate these mechanical aspects, thereby speeding up the entire creative process. However, creation itself remains a bigger black box than large language models (LLMs) — and thankfully so. (Here is a link to a piece I wrote about how I use AI as part of my writing process.)

During our conversation, I discovered that Ryan is what I call “fountain pen curious.” I shared a few tips, the name of an online store run by a pen friend, and generally expounded on the joys of writing by hand with pen and ink. After we finished talking, we stood up to walk. That’s when I noticed he was carrying a camera bag, so I asked him, “What’s in your bag?

Like a proud parent showing photos of his children, Ryan whipped out his creation — the Poetry Camera.

Poetry Camera prints poems instead of pictures. It’s a new way to make memories — away from screens, notifs, and apps.

Cute! It is essentially a 3D-printed camera body that houses a Raspberry Pi and a small printer typically used for printing receipts. It uses a Raspberry Pi’s visual module to capture a “photo,” then sends it to the internet, uses “AI” to analyze the image, and returns with a poem based on what it sees.

In other words, it’s an AI camera. It consistently generates short, cute poems that you can print out to share with others or paste into your journal. It is quite fun. This device perfectly encapsulates what I believe is inspired tinkering that will lead to new products and breakthroughs.

While we were experimenting with the camera, a passerby mentioned that it was a poetic camera by Kelin Carolyn Zhang, who co-created it with Ryan. His name was Yoshi. He explained that he had previously worked with Kelin at Twitter, where Kelin worked on the Twitter Spaces team. Ryan, by the way, was a design intern contractor at Google, and later joined Sudowrite.

We are no more than 10 meters away from the long-gone “swing” where Jack and Noah came up with the idea for Twitter. I shared that information with both of them. I also recounted how I accidentally launched Twitter. This little encounter between three disparate people, who would never meet otherwise, explains the uniqueness of the Bay Area.

The serendipity is what makes my now hometown so special. In San Francisco, technologies, new ideas, and people collide randomly in the oddest of places, at the oddest of times. Much of this has to do with the density of techies. In a way, that in itself is a self-fulling destiny. During the pandemic, this randomness disappeared, making the place less vibrant than usual.

For me, San Francisco will always be more than just a city. Despite our dysfunctional government and corrupt politics, I love being here. You run into new ideas simply by walking in the park.

June 26, 2020, in San Francisco

* Disclosure: I am an investor in Sudowrite

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