Graphic Design

Epoch – Decoding Meaning

Arthur Boer
A machine's interpretation of our visual culture
Practice Autonomous Practices
Project Digital Craft
Major Graphic Design
Year Fourth Year

Epoch – Decoding Meaning is a project by Arthur Boer and Boris Smeenk that explores the domain of computer vision in relation to the current visual culture, using deep learning technology. A machine that generates images and captions in real time, using Instagram – the largest and most popular online image-based platform –representing a collectively formed visual database. Epoch is a machine's interpretation of our visual culture — the relation between image, language, emojis and hashtags.

Epoch – Decoding Meaning

Over the past few years there has been a huge growth in the implementation of deep learning. At its heart, deep learning is the process of training computers to perform complex tasks that previously were carried out by humans, more specifically by the human brain. This includes ‘reading’ images and contextualising their content. Machine labor is valuable for big corporations like Google and Facebook, which keep boosting this industry. They aspire towards a machine which can decode and index data — pushing human complexity into simplified and labeled boxes.

Teaching computers to see as humans proves to be extremely challenging. However, the developed technology Convolutional Neural Networks (ConvNets) has proven to be a breakthrough within this domain. ConvNets is a computational algorithm that is embedded with millions of human-like neurons and is able to processes information at a high speed. Similar to a child that learns by interacting with the world, the program is able to learn by analysing large amounts of data, by trying to find patterns and regularities. For instance, by feeding the program a database of human faces, it is able to recognise a face within images as well as to generate a new face based on the millions of images it has analysed.

Focusing on topics (#hashtags), the project presents three Instagram accounts where the generated images are being uploaded. The topics include #selfie, #dog, #beauty. Each of these bot-accounts is based on an existing Instagram account that serves as a database for the generated new images. The accounts have been chosen as a case study due to their relevance to the larger visual culture as well as their popularity. For example, @mrpimpgoodgame.over is based on a highly popular Instagram account @mrpimpgoodgame that shows a large collection of selfies that the user uploaded every day. The accounts become a reflection on the symbiotic relationship between humans and machines.