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Tom White

Tom White is a New Zealand based artist investigating how machines see the world.

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Tom White's artwork investigates the Algorithmic Gaze: how machines see, know, and articulate the world. As machine perception becomes more pervasive in our daily lives, the world as seen by computers becomes our dominant reality. White explores this phenomenon in his work.

Collaborating with AI systems, White creates physical abstract prints that are reliably classified by neural networks. It’s art by AI, for AI. By giving the algorithms a voice to speak in, we are better able to see the world through the eyes of a machine.

Tom White is a New Zealand based artist investigating artificial intelligence and machine perception. He is also a lecturer teaching computational design and creative AI at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Design.

Selected AI projects by Tom White:

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Perception Engines

A visual overview examining the ability of neural networks to create abstract representations from collections of real world objects. White created an architecture called Perception Engines that able to construct representational objects powered by AI.

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Synthetic Abstractions

Synthetic Abstractions is a series of abstract screen prints which consistently register as "Adult" or "Explicit Content" by the major image recognitions systems (e.g. Google, Amazon, Tumblr, etc). The series explores how machines perceive explicit content, and is part of White’s ongoing investigation into how machines see.

White on using artificial intelligence:

“My work focuses on how machines see the world. I have created a drawing system that allows neural networks to produce abstract ink prints that reveal their visual concepts. Surprisingly, these prints are recognized not only by the neural networks that created them, but also universally across most AI systems which have been trained to recognize the same objects. Neural networks have been trained to recognize thousands of individual items from everyday life, such as “Rabbit”, “Banana”, or “Killer Whale”. Using the drawing system I have provided, the neural networks directly express in simple ink drawings their own versions of these categories – creating abstract shapes that convey their understanding of the world:

Rabbit . Image courtesy of Tom White.

Rabbit. Image courtesy of Tom White.

Killer Whale . Image courtesy of Tom White.

Killer Whale. Image courtesy of Tom White.

Banana . Image courtesy of Tom White.

Banana. Image courtesy of Tom White.

The composition, line placement, and colors are all chosen by neural networks attempting to make the drawing best represent the concept. Though these networks were trained only on real world images, when forced to express themselves abstractly they are able to create simpler forms that match their internal representations. After a print is made, I verify that the computer generated drawing is recognized broadly across other AI vision systems. For example, the three prints above were verified to independently be recognizable by both Google and Amazon image recognition systems. This suggests that the forms are compatible with a universal machine visual language. For this reason, when other vision systems encounter these prints they may be confused. For example, photos taken on a cell phone of the Banana print can get classified as food.

The AI systems we are creating are their own unique culture, and so often their way of representing the world can seem foreign to what we’ve come to expect. But their ability to abstractly represent concepts that we in turn recognize suggests we may have more in common with the machines we are creating that we realize.

Tom White’s exhibitions:

  • 2019 Electric Dreams at 369 Gallery. Sofia, Bulgaria. Synthetic Abstractions.

  • 2019 Automat und Mensch at Kate Vass Galerie. Zurich, Switzerland. Electric Fan.

  • 2018 ARTificial Art & AI at EspacePOP gallery Montreal, Canada. Synthetic Abstractions.

  • 2018 Gradient Descent at Nature Morte Gallery New Delhi, India. Perception Engines and Synthetic Abstractions.

  • 2018 THOTCON 0x9 Art Show. Chicago, IL, USA. The Treachery of ImageNet.

  • 2017 NIPS 2017 Art Gallery. Long Beach, California, USA. The Treachery of ImageNet.

  • 2017 Telfair Museum. Savannah, GA USA. Portrait Manifold III.

  • 2016 Generative Art Conference. Florence, Italy. Fitting In and Standing Out.

  • 2016 alt-AI, New York, USA. Portrait Manifold.

  • 2012 NASDAQ and Reuters Screens of Times Square, New York, USA. theBlu, with Wemo.

  • 2009 New Frontier on Main. Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah, USA. Tamper, with Oblong. CLIMAX.

  • 2005 National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan. Stream of Consciousness. Workspheres.

  • 2001 MoMA. New York, USA. Atmosphere, with Aesthetics + Computation Group at MIT. Herb Lublin Center,

  • 2000 Cooper Union, NY, USA. MIT ACG Retrospective, with ACG Group at MIT.

  • 2000 SIGGRAPH Art Show. New Orleans, USA. Introspection Machine, with ACG Group at MIT.

  • 2000 New York Digital Salon. New York, NY USA. Codon.

  • 1999 IMAGINA, The Innovation Village. Monaco. Stream of Consciousness.

  • 1999 Interaction ’99. IAMAS. Ogaki, Japan. Stream of Consciousness.

  • 1999 Art Directors’ Club Gallery. NY USA. Organic Information, with ACG Group at MIT.

  • 1999 Ars Electronica Festival. Linz, Austria. Stream of Consciousness.

  • 1998 SIGGRAPH Art Show. Los Angeles, CA USA Stream of Consciousness, with David Small.

  • 1998 Mediartech. Florence, Italy. Small Planet.

  • 1997 Interaction ’97. IAMAS. Ogaki, Japan. Small Planet.

  • 1995 SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies. Los Angeles, CA USA. Injection.

  • 1993 SIGGRAPH Art Show. Anaheim, CA USA. Small Planet, with Myron Kruger.

Learn more about Tom White: