Tom White

The latest print by Tom White, Mustard Dream (2018). Courtesy the artist.

WHO: Tom White is a New Zealand-based artist who is currently working as a lecturer in computational design at the University of Wellington. He specializes in “creative coding” and was included in the first mainstream gallery show dedicated to art made using artificial intelligence, which we wrote about earlier this summer.

WHAT: White works with neural networks called Convolutional Neural Networks, or CNNs. These networks are used in today’s computer vision applications to give modern machine-learning systems the ability to perceive the world through vision—for example, systems that filter obscene images from your Google search. In his work, White investigates the perceptual abilities of these systems by finding abstract forms that are meaningful to them. Trained on a set of images of real-life objects, the machine creates abstract representational prints until the forms created register as the specific objects, such as a starfish or a cabbage, when they are run through other AI systems to confirm. Some of the results register as “very likely obscene” when they are run through systems trained to filter obscene content, even though they might not register that way to us humans. See the above “obscene” print by White for reference.

WHY: White says working with artificial intelligence is like coming up against a staunchly different culture with completely foreign ways of seeing. In his own words, “By using AI techniques to generate my prints, I both learn and communicate how these systems differ in what they understand visually. This gives some insight in how the intelligences we are creating often agree but sometimes differ in their understanding of the world we share.”