DAVOS, Switzerland — Artificial intelligence is the talk of this year’s World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of global elites, and an art installation here makes the case that it could be the key to understanding our world.
“Living Archive: Nature” sits in the forum’s main hallway, a multisensory experience, combining visual, sound and scent elements of different ecosystems created by a generative AI program and based on data from the natural world.
The installation is the creation of Refik Anadol, a Turkish-born, Los Angeles-based media artist, who said the piece is meant to move AI beyond its human-based training to bring people closer to nature and bring urgency to the need to protect it.
“We are hoping to inspire an immediate and urgent need to preserve nature,” he said. “We all are so distant from nature. Our goal is to make people love and respect nature through AI, and appreciate the intelligence of nature in order to fight for its preservation. The time is now for action. We have no more time to wait.”
The emergence of Generative AI — automated systems that can produce media including writing, photos and videos based on voice prompts — has fueled a wave of optimism and fear about what the next generation of advanced computer systems may be capable of.
AI has been one of the dominant topics of the conference, where world leaders from politics, business and other walks of life come together each year. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was in attendance this year. The Associated Press reported that about 30 sessions touched on AI.
Alongside AI, climate change has been a major topic. Anadol said his installation is meant to bridge the gap between the two issues, using nature itself to make the case.
“We are looking to the inherent intelligence in nature to train this model, rather than relying on human intelligence,” he said. “This is a departure from the existing large language models.”
The installation features immersive elements, including a collar that fits around the neck. Participants then see, hear and smell vibrant “generative nature simulations” of the rainforest, such as soaring waterfalls, colorful birds and flowers. The installation also provides interaction with the raw dataset, which is the foundation of the exhibit’s AI model. The installation also combines generative AI and the physical world through installed special sensors in different rainforests that project images to the AI installation.
The generative AI model underpinning the installation is being developed for the forthcoming Dataland museum, which is scheduled to open in Los Angeles next year. Founded on extensive interdisciplinary research, it uses open access information from organizations like the Smithsonian Institution and London’s Natural History Museum.
Anadol said that the people behind the installation hope its presence in Davos opens up more data.
“We are here at WEF to encourage even more contributions to our model from worldwide institutions and archives,” he said.
Anadol said he is optimistic that AI can become a tool that can enhance human understanding of the world — something his installation strives to do.
“AI is certainly capable of doing things that human beings cannot do,” he said. “But humans at this moment are capable of doing things that machines cannot do. We see machines as collaborators, as an incredible opportunity to expand the possibilities of art making and to inspire and shift perspectives. AI, if trained on ethically sourced data, can actually help someone understand nature from a different perspective.”