Release The Wasps

Here’s a video of a talk I gave at the LetsGetReal conference last month.

Filmed by the talented Driftwood Productions

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acrylic on canvas 762mm x 1062mm

A portrait of a good friend, I don’t see often enough.

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This week the internet is awash with #deepdream images. I shan’t go into detail about how they are produced, other people have done a fine job of explaining the process.

The code, released by google, offers a playground for investigating the inner workings of neural networks. This rather dry area of research has been made much more attractive by the ability to create psychedelic visual outputs. There are #puppyslugs everywhere.

In one of my past-lives, I built neural network models as a means to model human language acquisition. Part of my research involved delving inside the networks and creating a visualisation of what they were doing. However, this was 1994, and I certainly didn’t have access to the kind of computing power (or datasets) that Google has, and hence the models were much more simplistic. But it’s fascinating to see a niche area of academia come into it’s own in the age of big-data.


#deepdream is appealing because it gives us access to machine pareidolia, an area of great artistic interest before Google got involved – see Henry Cooke‘s experiments with faces-in-the-cloud and Matthew Plummer-Fernandez‘s Novice Art Blogger.

I couldn’t resist having a play with it too. Here’s one of Alan Moore.


However, as always seems to be the way these days, the backlash has been quick and hard. What was wondrous and astounding has become boring and lazy within the space of a couple of weeks.

It’s a shame that backlash comes so quickly, perhaps it’s the natural result of people excitedly showing off their experiments in real time to a fickle, attention-impaired audience.

I think part of the problem is the apparent lack of human involvement in the process – it is likened to using a photoshop filter, a one-click solution to all your trippy visual needs. So far, all of the examples have treated whole images, and the visual overload of so many disparate elements can be overwhelming.

Below are some of my own experiments, where I’ve attempted to limit the range of the effect, using it on only part of the image, and juxtaposing the effect against reality.







As a final experiment, I fed some of these images back into Wolfram alpha’s image recognition system to see what the machine-mind thought they were:




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There are a lot of futurists on twitter – or at least a lot of people who fancy themselves as futurists. Wikipedia defines them thus:

Futurists or futurologists are scientists and social scientists whose specialty is futurology, or the attempt to systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present, whether that of human society in particular or of life on Earth in general.

They live at the weird intersection of fantasy and prediction, or ‘speculative fiction’ as they like to call it. They flourish in the space between the worlds of academia, contemporary art and business, marking their territory with a dense and otiose jargon of buzzwords and neologisms that make little sense to those outside-the-know.

As @timmaughn points out, sometimes it feels like an echochamber.

It’s not just the futurists – we are all living in echo-chambers of our own making. We select the sources we follow with care, and avoid opinions we may find objectionable – filter-bubbles of like minds and like personalities. This felt especially true recently, as The Conservatives were elected into government in the UK. Many on the left were shocked by the result, demonstrating how their filter-bubbles were totally at odds with the mood of the electorate at large.

This bot attempts to infiltrate the filter bubble of the futurists, by being an echo of their culture.


The bot creates tweets based on a series of templates, but the nouns and adjectives are derived from the words of the futurists it is following. Tweets are sometimes accompanied by an image, selected from blogs like new-aesthetic and algopop and elsewhere.

There is a degree of curation involved, I algorithmically generate a few hundred tweets at a time, and then pick out the best. I also select the images – though the decision of which image to pair with a tweet is left to the algo.

There is a collaboration going on here, between me and the code, much like my recent 100 algo-Kims & 100 algo-Kanyes.


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Diogenes and the chicken

Acrylic on canvas 762mm x 508mm (30″ x 20″)

Diogenes is my favourite ancient greek philosopher.

Diogenes made a virtue of poverty. He begged for a living and often slept in a large ceramic jar in the marketplace. He became notorious for his philosophical stunts such as carrying a lamp in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man. He criticized and embarrassed Plato, disputed his interpretation of Socrates and sabotaged his lectures, sometimes distracting attendees by bringing food and eating during the discussions. Diogenes was also responsible for publicly mocking Alexander the Great.

Here I have painted him holding a plucked chicken, a reference to one of his infamous run-ins with Plato.

Plato liked to ‘interpret’ Socrates, and on one occasion spoke of his definition of man as a “featherless biped”.

Allegedly, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato’s Academy, saying, “Behold! I’ve brought you a man.”


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