Generative AI and The Order of the Third Bird

A surprising AI-generated image (Dall-E), in reply to a prompt asking for an image of “Birds”


An associate of ESTAR(SER) who stays abreast of recent developments in “cyberspace” has recently written to Communiqués with an interesting report.  We append it here below:


Many of the readers of ESTAR(SER)’s Proceedings, and the more regular “Notes and Comments” circulars will be familiar with the proliferation of new digital tools that facilitate archival research. Much of the scholarship on the “Order of the Third Bird” over the last two decades has made exciting new use of bibliographical finding aids and full-text searchable databases of rare published materials, and this has enabled discoveries and insights not previously available to earlier generations of researchers.  But nothing in any of that work has prepared us for the ground-breaking power of the new “Artificial Intelligence” systems that have become widely available in the last two years.  The generative AI architecture that underlies ChatGPT is capable of synthesizing resources, analyzing problems, and even making independent (and novel!) observations across the widest conceivable range of human endeavor.  The implications for historical research (in general), and ongoing study of the Birds (specifically) could not be greater.  Though it is difficult, at this early stage of so radical a new technology, to foresee exactly where all this will lead.

In order to make a preliminary demonstration of the utility of these instruments, my colleagues and I, making use of ChatGPT-4, conducted a preliminary AI “parley” concerning the Order.  We were struck by the results, and convey them here: 

ESTAR(SER) researchers:  What are you able to tell me about the group known as “the Order of the Third Bird?”

ChatGPT – 4:  The Order of the Third Bird is a somewhat enigmatic group with a focus on attentive practices, particularly regarding the contemplation of art and objects. Here are some key aspects of this group:

  • 1. Mystique and Secrecy: The Order of the Third Bird has a certain aura of mystery surrounding it. The details about its origins, membership, and specific practices often seem intentionally obscured, contributing to its enigmatic reputation.
  • 2. Art and Contemplation: Central to the group’s activities is the act of intense and prolonged contemplation of artworks or objects. This practice is often described as a ritualistic or meditative engagement with art, going beyond mere observation to a deeper, more immersive experience.
  • 3. Historical References: While the true history of the Order is difficult to trace, various historical references and documents suggest that it has been in existence for centuries. These references often imply a longstanding tradition of intellectual and artistic engagement among its members.
  • 4. Influence on Art and Thought: The Order has reportedly influenced various artists, writers, and thinkers throughout history. Its emphasis on deep contemplation and the experiential aspect of art has been said to contribute to broader discussions in aesthetics and the philosophy of perception.
  • 5. Modern Interpretations: In recent times, the Order has been the subject of various artistic and scholarly interpretations. Some see it as a real entity with a significant historical presence, while others view it as a fictional or metaphorical construct used to explore ideas about art and observation.
  • 6. Cultural and Literary Appearances: The Order of the Third Bird occasionally appears in cultural and literary works, often used as a device to explore themes of observation, the nature of art, and the boundaries between reality and fiction.

Given the elusive nature of the Order, it’s challenging to distinguish between historical fact and creative interpretation. Much of what is known about the Order comes from artistic and literary sources, which may blend truth, myth, and artistic license.

We were impressed by this overview, which strikes us as less confused than we often encounter when raising the topic — even with relatively well-informed persons.  It will be worth considering other ways this new tool can facilitate our research and point the way to new perspectives on Birdish historiography.

Follow-up suggestions, or parallel reports are welcome: