The Machine Gaze

Vampire (Corpus: Monsters of Capitalism) Adversarially Evolved Hallucination, 2017. The AI that produced this image was trained to see monsters that have historically been used as allegories for capitalism. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein spoke to the advent of industrialization and machinification, while Marx used the figure of the Vampire to describe an undead system that lived off the blood of the working class. Other classes in this corpus include zombie, vampire squid, Haitian zombie, octopus, zombie formalism, and others. © Trevor Paglen. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

There is a new gaze on the world, the gaze of the machine. What it sees and the choices it makes will be informed by our prejudices.

This perceptive and slightly unnerving article on Lens Culture by Alexander Strecker explores the political and moral implications of AI programmes that take photographic images. These cameras have no human eye behind them, they picture the world from a machine-perspective, and the images give a glimpse into how AI will see us.

Artist Trevor Paglen has been exploring what happens when machines start taking photographs and is exhibiting in NYC with “A Study of Invisible Things.”

The specific invisible thing here is computer vision and its manifestation in the likes of self-driving cars, automated production lines and facial recognition tools. Unlike guided drones, these are machines that have learned to see without us.

AI can win games, beat world champions at Go, it can write poems that fool poets, produce whole novels in minutes and it can produce a new Rembrandt Now, AI can provide the work for a photography exhibition. How soon until it makes a movie or maybe a documentary about how machines see people?