Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made great strides in recent years, with a range of applications in coding, design, illustration and many others. It is now being used by animators to generate – within a matter of seconds – detailed previews of new ideas, before committing the hundreds of human hours needed for a new creative project. All images in this article have been generated by a revolutionary new AI called DALL•E 2.
DALL•E 2 is an AI model which can create artistic or photorealistic images based on text input from humans. It does this having been trained on thousands of existing images from the internet – with results which are often surprising as well as entertaining. But apart from amusement or business, AI can also have more conscious applications. Obviously, any actual construction in Auroville must go through a human approval process – but the generated images can serve as design inspiration based on existing Auroville motifs.
Sitharth is a former Microsoft employee who has been coming to Auroville since the 2000’s: “Whenever I wanted peace I would just come here, sit here and go.” He later got involved in the Om Choir, the Unity Pavilion and studying Integral Yoga. In his work on creating machine learning algorithms, he came to know about DALL·E 2, and wanted to see what the tool could imagine for Auroville.
The role of the human user is to provide text prompts with words describing the desired image. All images below were created with the keywords “Auroville” and “self-sustainable” (omitted below). Other keywords differed for each image.
“The AI is already trained with billions of images along with the keywords”, Sitharth explains. “They have taken images from the internet, and the model builds its own inferences” – which perhaps explains the prominence of Matrimandir-inspired designs. Below are some of the results with the keywords used to generate them.
The windowsill planter boxes in the building on the left give it the feeling of being alive and in use, while the geodesic dome on the right may be inspired by the Matrimandir. Either way, this would be a great part of Auroville to stroll through.
“Utopia of the future green city Mother”
Vast golden domes housing indoor gardens? Sign us up!
These designs are likely inspired by the mid-20th-century works of futurist architects such as Paolo Soleri and Buckminster Fuller. Firmly planted in Auroville’s familiar South Indian landscape, such monumental structures would create a striking impression both from the ground and from the air, contributing to Auroville’s unique architectural identity.
“Forest city futuristic gardens”
This Buckminster-Fuller-style sturdy glass dome could house a yoga hall ideal for rainy days, while still keeping close contact with South India’s vibrant nature.
“Utopian forest city futuristic buildings”
Perhaps inspired by the architecture of Heinz Isler or Félix Candela, this beehive-shaped semitransparent dome could shelter a modern theatre or assembly hall, ringed by a set of galleries looking out at the surrounding park.
“Forest city utopia interior design of the houses”
While Auroville has its’ share of wooden huts, the residential design on the left boasts an innovative hybrid of wood and modern materials, serving as a constant reminder of the fact of living in a forest. Whether such wooden supports would be structurally sound or serve a purely decorative purpose, is still to be explored.
On the left, the glass domes appear to be skylights, providing natural light to a basement level. This building may be more spacious than it first appears, with at least one underground floor that could serve as a gym, workspace or simply for storage.
“Forest city utopia eateries”
Anyone who has spent time in Auroville knows how important its ‘eateries‘ are as focal points for community interaction. This design is not particularly futuristic, as that keyword wasn’t used – but could house a new food court which would be a welcome addition to Auroville’s restaurant scene.
“Forest city utopia city council”
As a site of cultural exchange, it was once suggested that Auroville should have Esperanto – a constructed international language not belonging to any single country – as its language of communication. In the end however, it was more practical to use four existing languages as Auroville’s official ones: English, Tamil, French and Sanskrit.
Coming up with entirely new languages is one of the emerging AI’s eccentricities. As the image represents a city council courtyard, it seems to suggest a brand new script, which while certainly neutral, may be a bit of a tall order to learn.
“Utopian forest city multi-storey buildings”
Out of all the AI-generated images, the realistic renderings of multi-storied office space are some of our favourites. The signature look of earthen domes is unmistakably Auroville, while the view from a shaded, balustraded terrace would be a welcome break from working in front of a computer. Some of these buildings are reminiscent of the current ‘Town Hall’ campus (otherwise known as the Auroville Center for Urban Research, ACUR). As for the purpose of the diagonal supports surrounding the structures on the right – that remains a mystery.
“Self-sustainable forest city transport”
By mixing and matching elements from existing images, AI comes up with new combinations. And while this reverse riksha is a snarky commentary on current Auroville modes of transport, with the front cabin completely blocking the driver’s view, it is neither futuristic nor practical – whether for Auroville or anywhere else. One could get around this problem by installing a digital monitor for the driver, but a battery or an engine would first have to be installed. As far as methods of transport are concerned, such a design is an accident waiting to happen.
Applying AI to Auroville?
While computing has usually been at odds with spiritual life, Sitharth has this to say on AI’s compatibility with Auroville ideals:
“Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is integral – we are not supposed to leave aside anything. We need to integrate everything into our way of being – harmoniously, of course. AI has a huge potential, results depend on how we use it. If we train the algorithm for sustainability, it will give outputs for that.”
“In India we have huge amounts of data – the data of economies that don’t work, of economies that work. It can be used to harmonize all the different sectors to produce sustainability, prosperity and wellbeing. It’s just that people need to take it forward with the right attitude of peace, love and harmony.”