Why Would You Want to Picture It – On being a vector inside a neural network

Created by Philipp Schmitt, “Why Would You Want to Picture It” is a sculpture and sound installation engaging with opacity of ‘black box’ machine learning algorithms.

The sculpture of a neural network diagram floats in the gallery, taken from a research paper and made ten feet long in steel and painted black. Created as an isometric projection, it is hard to discern whether it is spatial or a flat drawing on the wall. The room is filled by a synthetic voice recounting the experience of being a vector inside a neural network, the composition of the landscapes, its rules and poetry.

I enjoy moving like this — traversing space by traversing words, travelling from A to B with the least operations possible. There is always something to discover since the space is continuous: there is no void between where I am and the next thing, but a gradual morphing of one into the other. There are no binaries in floating point numbers, infinite flavors between sweet and sour.

Philipp Schmitt – On Being A Vector Inside A Neural Network, 2019

The piece offers an experience of the disconnect between what can be observed, reasoned with, communicated, and that which emerges from within artificial neural networks invisibly and un-imaginably: their “intelligence”. Can we understand what we cannot observe or imagine?

The sculpture is welded from stainless steel rods, painted, and suspended from the ceiling using nylon thread. The sound installation consists of two monitor speakers and two ultrasonic directional speakers that create narrow sound beams only audible as one moves through the gallery. The text is a montage of material from artificial intelligence research publications, philosophy, literature, generated text by a neural network (GPT-2), and Philipp’s own writing.

Project Page | Philipp Schmit

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