Twitter Bot Generates A Fictional Universe Every Hour
A sci-fi-inspired algorithm creates detailed topographies based on principles of natural science
Inspired by fantasy novels from his teens, Martin O’Leary, a glaciologist at Swansea University in Wales, developed a bot that could continue to generate unique maps long after he finished writing the code.
The bot, called Uncharted Atlas, begins by taking broad brushstrokes, placing/spacing dots and drawing a rough outline. Next, it layers on blobs, randomized slopes and water fronts (as the illustrated process shows below).
O’Leary specialization comes into play as flowing water that erodes the randomly generated landscape and carves something that resembles a settlement. Drainage channels appear, islands and coastlines come take shape and voila! You have a fictional world as an end-result.
The Northern Realm of Far Hinnuppu`nih pic.twitter.com/X9xKwmnjzZ
— Uncharted Atlas (@unchartedatlas) September 1, 2016
The algorithm-driven project is a part of a larger movement to innovate narrative expressed by artificial intelligence. It was founded on real science, such as natural law erosion (the gradual wearing out of surfaces like soil, rock and glaciers through of water, temperature and wind), and the history of human civilization (where and why our ancestors settled in particular geographies). O’Leary is in fact a geographer specializing in ice/ocean interactions and uses computer models to study processes at the fronts of tidewater glaciers.
According to an article in Popular Mechanics: “for each map, the program labels landscapes and cities using a language generator that names everything with a similar etymological structure.” This contributes to the realism of what is generated. The regions, cities and terrain all seem to hold together with linguistic glue. O’Leary addresses this motivation on his website saying, “I wanted to produce something which was a step above the usual alphabetic soup of generated place-names, and which was capable of producing recognizably distinct languages.”