Corn and computation: Mike’s Maze for 2023 poses the question of ‘What makes us human?’

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 09-06-2023 7:50 PM

SUNDERLAND — A question is posed in the corn at Warner Farm: In the age of artificial intelligence, what makes us human?

Thinking.

The one-word answer carved in the 8-acre cornfield serves as the centerpiece of Mike’s Maze 2023 theme, as people are encouraged this fall to put down the screens and embrace their human side in the age of ChatGPT and the ever-growing presence of artificial intelligence.

The famous labyrinth unveiled its 2023 theme last week, which is focused on all things artificial intelligence, as co-creators Jess and David Wissemann continue their tradition of featuring cultural touchstones in their maze each year.

“With all of the advances with language-learning models and ChatGPT and AI imaging generation services … we thought it would be really interesting to explore that at Mike’s Maze,” Jess Wissemann said. “Of all the themes we’ve done, it’s giving us the most food for thought, literally.”

A major inspiration for the maze is Alan Turing, an English mathematician commonly recognized as the father of AI, and a 1951 statement he made on a BBC broadcast.

“I believe that the attempt to make a thinking machine will help us greatly in finding out how we think ourselves,” Turing said.

As an artist, Jess Wissemann said AI image generation is a concern of hers, but in plugging a corn maze prompt in DALL-E, one of many AI generators online, she found the designs to be unnerving.

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“The creations were horrific, they lacked an aesthetic,” she said. “I felt reassured that for another year I’ll have a job.”

The fonts of the text in the maze were created by David Jonathan Ross, a typist based in western Massachusetts, and Jess Wissemann said Ross’ type designs featured in the maze capture the digitized feel she was going for.

In terms of growing the maze, David Wissemann said they were able to escape the brunt of July’s torrential downpours, although they did have to go into the maze and add some extra fertilizer to ensure the corn grew well.

Alongside solving the maze itself, there are numerous activities an AI could never do, no matter how much computing power it has. Families are invited to race around a track in non-self-driving pedal carts, climb the 25-foot tall “World Wide Web,” quelling the robot uprising at the potato cannon range and taking an “Airdrop” onto the jump (i)pad.

Ironically, while an AI can’t physically complete these tasks, the Wissemanns said they wanted to explore how it could help make their jobs more efficient and plugged some prompts for games and machine learning puns into ChatGPT.

The process, they said, turns into a brainstorming session. David Wissemann said not every response from the AI is a winner, especially those created for their trivia game, but it provides a jumping-off point for further research and development.

“It’ll come up with things that are cheesy and corny,” Jess Wissemann added with a laugh. “It doesn’t have that human sense of humor.”

Mike’s Maze is located on Route 47 at 23 S. Main St in Sunderland. The maze is open from Sept. 8 to Nov. 5 on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as Columbus Day.

Weekend admission is $16 for adults and $14 for kids, seniors and military. All kids 4 years old and younger are free. Friday admission is reduced, although pony rides and face painting for kids are unavailable on Fridays.

For more information, visit mikesmaze.com. To view the trailer the maze put out for this year’s design, visit its YouTube page here: bit.ly/45LeDfI.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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