The Seeker

The Seeker is a machine entity which travels the world virtually, and describes for us what it sees. Named for Ptah-Seker, the artist/technologist god of the Ancient Egyptians, who created the world by speaking the words to describe it, this project looks at how the act of describing the world might establish a whole new worldview for machines and humans alike.

Thompson’s interest in the machine gaze began with her 2016-17 project on global surveillance: Backdoored. Here she was collecting screenshots taken through unprotected online security cameras, and examining the privacy and social impact of the growing ‘Internet of Things’. She explains “I became increasingly interested in the machinic genesis of the images I was collecting. They are generated in the instant that a search-bot discovers an unprotected security camera. There is no human agency involved, only an emergent system acting on algorithmic ‘instinct’. Our machines are looking back at us, and I started wondering what they could see and how they were learning to interpret that vision.”

With accelerating advances in image recognition and object identification software, an entirely new way of seeing the world is evolving. One where the relationship between viewer and viewed will be transformed, and everything seen is objectified (the sadistic machine gaze?). This evolving machinic visual landscape will become codified within the DNA of future intelligent systems and AIs. But what is the topography of this new visual landscape? We have already seen the development of ‘machine bias’ in language analysis algorithms – the results of human bias inherent in their training. What are the machines learning to find worthy (or unworthy) of their visual attention?