‘We used artificial intelligence to discover what a computer thinks of Hertfordshire – and we’re suddenly very scared’

It’s impossible to ignore the ever-quickening integration of technology in modern life. What began as iPods in our pockets has evolved to Alexa in our homes and banking apps that remember our voices.

Whilst technology has inevitably created an easier life for us all, it’s also left us rather wary and nervous. Algorithms are nowadays incredibly clever, and can predict our needs and wants.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can create eerily human voices, and programs which you can have a conversation. It can even create art.

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NeuralBlender is an online website that allows you to create AI art simply by giving it a few words and seeing the program can come up with. Sometimes, they’re absolutely on the money. Other times, the results are strangely otherworldly.

The website states that: “NeuralBlender uses state-of-the-art AI technology to generate images from text input.” So we decided to put that to the test. And what better testing material than our own county itself?

We’ve plugged in some of Hertfordshire’s biggest towns, as well as some things that for better or worse define us as a county. The results are sometimes pretty accurate. However, sometimes the results have us hiding behind our sofas. Here’s what AI thinks of Hertfordshire.


What the AI program created when we gave it ‘Hertfordshire’

For our first task, we just popped in the word ‘Hertfordshire’ to see what it would come up with. And what it gave us, wasn’t completely unfamiliar.

The AI program produced a sight that many Hertfordshire residents may be able to vaguely recognise. It appears to have produced a very green and tree-laden park, with some pavement for walking on.

Whilst it’s not perfect (the pathways look a bit like a Crazy Golf course for the most part), if this is what technology thinks of when it thinks of Hertfordshire, I think that’s something to be proud of. We are of course, a very green county.


What the AI program created when we gave it 'Hertford'
What the AI program created when we gave it ‘Hertford’

The first particular Hertfordshire area we put to the test was of course the county town of Hertford. Rather than an abstract concept – like what NeuralBlender came up with when we gave it the entire county – the AI program focused in on everyday life.

These houses look very much like ones we’d expect to see in a place like Hertford. They’re traditional, old-timey properties, complete with chimneys and green lawns.

Whilst these exact properties don’t exist in real life, they aren’t a million miles away from what we expect when we hear ‘Hertford’. Could the AI program be boringly accurate?

Welwyn Garden City

What the AI program created when we gave it 'Welwyn Garden City'
What the AI program created when we gave it ‘Welwyn Garden City’

If Hertford was NeuralBlender’s attempt at realism, Welwyn Garden City is its attempt at modern art. The program has gone a bit new-wave, and created some oddly shaped buildings.

It’s also gone overboard on the ‘Garden’ in ‘Welwyn Garden City’. There are green hedges everywhere; on the walls of buildings, on the rooves of buildings, on the awnings of buildings.

We love a green place, but even we are a little put off by what we’ve seen here. The AI program also seems to think of car parks. Maybe it’s a motorising enthusiast?


What the AI program created when we gave it 'Watford'
What the AI program created when we gave it ‘Watford’

Right, NeuralBlender. Very clever. We understand your thought process. But it’s not exactly what we wanted.

Clearly Watford is defined by its football team in the AI’s eyes – well not eyes. Computers can’t have eyes. However, just like Watford’s 2021/22 season, this image is a bit of a nightmare.

Whilst the Hornets’ kit and colours are reasonably accurate, the players are terrifying. Their faces are mish-mashed and unclear. Their arms merge and join each other.

It also looks like they’re celebrating a goal, which is incredibly unrealistic if current form is anything to go off of. But for the first time, the AI program has taken the initiative. I wonder how far they’ll go with that…

St Albans

What the AI program created when we gave it 'St Albans'
What the AI program created when we gave it ‘St Albans’

Maybe our AI program is just football crazy, but we were certainly expecting more from it with this attempt. St Albans is one of the most historic and important areas in Hertfordshire.

It’s the only city within our borders, and to see that it’s stuck with sport, even though St Albans isn’t exactly known for its footballing prowess. Even worse, it’s not even accurate.

St Albans City FC, who play in the National League South, has a broadly blue and yellow badge, which looks nothing like the badge NeuralBlender created.

What a shame. We’d have loved to see AI have a crack at the cathedral.

Standon Calling Festival

What the AI program created when we gave it 'Standon Calling Festival'
What the AI program created when we gave it ‘Standon Calling Festival’

A bit more obscure, we wondered what the AI program would make of one of Hertfordshire’s biggest events. Standon Calling takes place most summers, and has featured musical juggernauts like Wolf Alice, Nile Rodgers and Rag ‘n’ Bone Man.

Ignoring that, NeuralBlender has put an altogether different artist on stage. In front of a huge crowd, the AI program has featured an odd mish-mash of shapes and colours at the focus of everyone.

We really don’t understand how it’s ended up producing what it has, but if 2022’s punters turned up in Standon to witness this, I’m sure they would be disappointed.

The crowd is also a weird mess. But I guess that’s more accurate than what we’d care to admit.

Paradise Wildlife Park

What the AI program created when we gave it 'Paradise Wildlife Park'
What the AI program created when we gave it ‘Paradise Wildlife Park’

Another key attraction in our county is Paradise Wildlife Park, soon to be renamed the Hertfordshire Zoo. And once again, NeuralBlender isn’t too far off.

We can certainly make out a very wild picture, made up of jungle-greenery and clear signage. However, perched atop the sign is something that would certainly attract guests from around the world.

A weird tiger-monkey hybrid currently isn’t on display at Paradise Wildlife Park. If it was, you certainly would have heard more news from us about it.

However, if the team over at Paradise is looking for a new logo ahead of its big relaunch, we’ve got a crazy idea ready to go.

Molly Mae Hague

What the AI program created when we gave it 'Molly Mae Hague'
What the AI program created when we gave it ‘Molly Mae Hague’

Of course, what would Hertfordshire be without the Instagram powerhouse that is Molly-Mae Hague? There are hours and hours of video and thousands of photos of Molly-Mae out there online, so we thought this one wouldn’t be that much of a challenge.

However, this is definitely not the Molly-Mae we know and love. The Molly Mae created by NeuralBlender appears to be more than twice the age of Hitchin’s own. And on top of that, she’s a lot scarier.

Maybe this is what the AI program thinks Molly-Mae will look like in a few decades. If that’s the case, we’ll certainly have to return further down the line to see if we’re on the money.


What the AI program created when we gave it 'HertsLive'
What the AI program created when we gave it ‘HertsLive’

With some trepidation, we had to turn the mirror inwards – what did the AI program think of us? Plugging in HertsLive, we were braced for the worst.

Would it create the worst thing we’ve ever seen? Would we be terrified and never look at ourselves in the same way ever again? Or on the other hand, would it show a gleaming website, us winning journalistic awards and smiling gleefully? In reality, it did neither.

We’re not too sure what it did. It misspelled our website’s name – even though we typed it in for them – and created a very strange sight indeed.

It almost looks like a park information sign – it even got the colours wrong. So what have we learned about AI? Well currently, we know it’s incredibly inconsistent.

But it’s an interesting look into what the world of technology thinks of us as a county. If there was a post-apocalyptic technological uprising, I think Hertfordshire wouldn’t fare too badly at all. We dread to think what it thinks of Essex.

To make your own creations, visit the NeuralBlender website by clicking here.

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