- reCAPTURED -
This project began as a spontaneous idea on 2.14.22 when Alex and I were talking over ideas for what to do next. I thought about the images used to discern whether a web user is human or not. Bots, while complex and capable, are still unable to discern what counts as a traffic light or car and select these items… I guess. It’s a bizarre process for ensuring authenticity.
CAPTCHA - “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.”
Those images have a variety of origins, but may come from Google’s efforts to gather data by driving around cars with bizarre camera contraptions on their roofs. They pay people to drive around and funnel data into their systems and then they resell that as security against non-human threats.
The image offered is a co-opted space, broken into a grid of clickable boxes. A tool for security, obfuscated to defy machine vision. Then in turn, we offer free data by labeling the images for free. Who knows where our answers will go, how our vision has been co opted and leveraged for profit. I’m wildly curious about this.
I’ve begun to contemplate my own entanglements - reliance upon entities like Google. My lack of resources forces reliance, to some extent. But is my willingness forgivable?
The tool I relied upon from the beginning is DeepDream, developed by a Google engineer. They are entangled. I am entangled. I would love a way out, but I am stuck. I will become a mirror and reflect the light back, complete the circle and chuckle under my breath at the ridiculous role I play.
Using Google Maps street view, I take a tour through my hometown starting from the spot closest to my home where the road is no longer private. A tunnel of trees extends beyond the camera’s reach and hides the entrance that dives down a hill, winding through vegetation. As if that makes me feel any more hidden… When you can be seen from space, very little can be hidden. Money and power influences what is seen and unseen.
I can see the mailbox I’ve walked to dozens of times, unlocked hundreds of times, and deposited letters in too few times. I jump from point to point, dropping myself in the middle of the road in front of places where I licked ice cream from my fingers on a sweaty day, listened to saturated music while feasting on creamy food, cradled fingers around a crisp beer, or ran to find cover from the rain.
The town has been flayed and flattened to fit, blue light glowing intensely. I snap a screenshot every time I feel something, a pinching or warming sensation from somewhere in the back of my mind or stomach perhaps. With these images spattered across my desktop, I open DeepDream and pick a photo and one of my paintings and let the machine consume them and spit them back out at me, combined into one.
It’s a marvelous swirl of colors. I choose an image I want to remember. It’s shattered in ways that I couldn’t recreate if I tried. But I let it ignite a sense of wonder renewed in me, repulsed by my easily inspired sense of fantasy. It’s novel and edible, rich in confusion. So I will attempt to paint it in my own way. It is the child of a truly contemporary painter, consumed and consuming constantly. But I choose where the paint slips, where it’s allowed to drip. I choose where the color strays and breaks. This manufactured surface and slime is my field and I will bathe in the disorientation I feel as fiber meets fiber and falls away.
I think the painting is about 34% done so far, but it’s hard to tell when everything is so loose. Yesterday I began to add in fluorescent paint in an attempt to capture the luminous qualities of certain colors. The ability to do as I please and shift to other solutions makes the process smoother. Unlike the Mutations, this feels more natural and enjoyable.
I’m not certain how I feel about the complexity of it all, it feels overly sweet in certain areas. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it is intense and somewhat draining until I find a moment with a transition or swathe of color that excites me. The bottom right-hand side appeals to me the most currently. I worked on it first and it feels complete. The area above, with patches of green and repetitive orbs remains choppy and dissonant. I’m not sure whether I want to keep it that way.
The bottom, left corner is coming together nicely with more open, lightly tinted colors. The canvas format pleases me, on the whole. I would like to see three of these, positioned one above the other on a wall. The general color palette delights me and the initial wash of iridescent green suits it.
It took about three weeks to finish the first painting. After the initial construction of the painting’s form and composition, I went off script and stopped referencing the image. During that stage I began to identify all the parts of the image that felt like my own. I reworked certain areas in ways that felt natural and correct to me. The images resemble one another, but are distinct in both material and formal ways. When making the Mutations, I agonized over accurately replicating the CNN’s images. With a healthy dose of skepticism and humor, I’ve found a proper balance and am recklessly diving into the next painting.
A thoroughly contemporary landscape - consumed as data and resurrected as memory.
Two paintings are done and I am working on the third. Today I want to focus on writing about the places.
Growing up in “small-town-America,” there had to be some sort of burger joint in the area. Right? The place you went to with friends or family during the summer, after wandering around town or playing sports. The food was inevitably greasy and delightful, predictable. At the back of a tiny dining area was a Mrs. Packman machine that I always dragged dad over to so I could watch in awe as he played. Now and then I wish I could go back to that moment, watching the icon dart around. I have yet to shake off the lingering love I have for onion rings and tartar sauce.
During the height of the pandemic they moved all the dining outside, into the parking lot. Rickety benches and a checkerboard of red and white paint. The machine is off limits now and I don’t know if I will ever get to go back, but it would be nice to just one more time.
Road to Mt. Si
People drown in the river all the time, but for a stretch of time it seemed bizarrely frequent. How horrifying… Death still lacked proximity - sterile and haunting. I cannot say the same thing now. It is familiar, real, and infectiously painful. This isn’t to say that this place makes me think about death. But the river does. Always.
This is a crossroad, a meeting point for friendships long passed - a void now during a time of isolation. I miss the magic of it all, like passing through a portal into another realm where adventure could be found. The mountain looms above the road, endlessly extending into the clouds.
Painting hurts. I bleed onto a canvas and observe as people gloss past its surface. Five seconds and then onward. Impersonal. Thinking about this breaks me.
Research about DeepDream
They chose to make it open source [^]
Blog Post [^]
“The techniques presented here help us understand and visualize how neural networks are able to carry out difficult classification tasks, improve network architecture, and check what the network has learned during training. It also makes us wonder whether neural networks could become a tool for artists—a new way to remix visual concepts—or perhaps even shed a little light on the roots of the creative process in general.”
Research about CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA
If the program believes you’re a human, all you have to do is check the box and move on. If you’re suspected of spambot tendencies, checking the box will open up a new challenge, like identifying all the kittens in a photo array” (Source).Then, at the checkpoint itself, users are asked to confirm a single statement: “I am not a robot.” “In their place, Google unveiled the now-familiar “No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA” system, which relies not on a users’ ability to decipher text, but on their online behavior prior to the security checkpoint. While a user is on a page, an invisible algorithm is monitoring how they interact with the content to determine if they’re human or robot.
By selecting portions of the images, we may actually be providing free labor for training AI - self driving cars.
Apparently CAPTCHA was also supposed to help refine Street View
“Google confirmed it’s currently running an experiment that involves using its reCAPTCHA spam-fighting system to improve data in Google Maps by having users identify things like street names and business addresses”
“Says Google: “We’re currently running an experiment in which characters from Street View images are appearing in CAPTCHAs. We often extract data such as street names and traffic signs from Street View imagery to improve Google Maps with useful information like business addresses and locations. Based on the data and results of these reCaptcha tests, we’ll determine if using imagery might also be an effective way to further refine our tools for fighting machine and bot-related abuse online” (Source).
Research about Google Street View
Timnit Gebru’s Project
Research about Google Data Collection and Treatment of AI:
““Big Tech dominates AI research around advancements in machine learning, image recognition, language translation — poaching talent from top universities, sponsoring conferences and publishing influential papers. In response to concerns about the way those technologies could be abused or compound bias, the industry ramped up funding and promotion of AI ethics initiatives, beginning around 2016” (Tiku).”
“Employees in Google Research, the department that houses the ethical AI team, say authors who make claims about the benefits of large language models have not received the same scrutiny during the approval process as those who highlight the shortcomings” (Tiku).
“Although Google publicly celebrated Gebru's work identifying problems with AI, it disenfranchised the work internally by keeping it hierarchically distinct from other AI initiatives, not heeding the group's advice, and not creating an incentive structure to put in practice the ethical findings, Gebru and other employees said” (Tiku).
“Nearly 3,000 Google employees and more than 4,000 academics, engineers and industry colleagues have signed a petition calling Gebru's termination an act of retaliation by Google. Last week, nine Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (N.Y.), sponsor of the Algorithmic Accountability Act, a bill that would require companies to audit and correct race and gender bias in its algorithms, sent a letter to Google chief executive Sundar Pichai asking the company to affirm its commitment to research freedom and diversity” (Tiku).
“Within the company, Gebru and her former colleagues said, there is little transparency or accountability regarding how decisions around AI ethics or diversity initiatives get made. Work on AI principles, for instance, falls under Kent Walker, the senior vice president of global affairs, whose vast purview includes lobbying, public policy and legal work. Walker also runs an internal ethics board of top executives, including Dean, called the Advanced Technology Review Council, which is responsible for yes or no decisions when issues escalate, Gebru said. The Ethical AI team had to fight to be consulted on Walker's initiatives, she said.
"Here's the guy tasked with covering Google's a--, lobbying and also … working on AI principles," Gebru said. "Shouldn't you have a different entity that pushes back a little bit internally — some sort of push and pull?" What's more, members of Walker's council are predominantly vice presidents or higher, constricting diversity, Gebru said.” (Tiku)
FARM (PRYOR CREEK, OKLAHOMA) 2015
Research about Google Selling Personal Data