Archive for the ‘Media ecology’ Category

Machine Learned Futures

September 6, 2018 3 comments

We are with Abelardo Gil-Fournier writing a text or two on questions of temporality in contemporary visual culture. Our specific angle is on (visual) forms of prediction and forecasting as they emerge in machine learning: planetary surface changes, traffic and autonomous cars, etc. Here’s the first bit of an article on the topic (forthcoming later we hope, both in German and English).

“’Visual hallucination of probable events’, or, on environments of images and machine learning”

I Introduction

Contemporary images come in many forms but also, importantly, in many times. Screens, interfaces, monitors, sensors and many other devices that are part of the infrastructure of knowledge build up many forms of data visualisation in so-called real-time. While data visualisation might not be that new of a technical form of organisation of information as images, it takes a particularly intensive temporal turn with networked data that has been discussed for example in contexts of financial speculation.[1] At the same time, these imaging devices are part of an infrastructure that does not merely observe the microtemporal moment of the “real”, but unfolds in the now-moment. In terms of geographical, geological and broadly speaking environmental monitoring, the now moment expands in to near-future scenarios in where other aspects, including imaginary are at play. Imaging becomes a form of nowcasting, exposing the importance of understanding change changing.

Here one thinks of Paul Virilio and how “environment control” functions through the photographic technical image. In Virilio’s narrative the connection of light (exposure), time and space are bundled up as part of the general argument about the disappearance of the spatio-temporal coordinates of the external world. From the real-space we move to the ‘real-time’ interface[2] and to analysis of how visual management detaches from the light of the sun, the time of the seasons, the longue duree of the planetary qualitative time to the internal mechanisms of calculation that pertain to electric and electronic light. Hence, the photographic image that is captured prescribes for Virilio the exposure of the world: it is an intake of time, and, an intake of light. Operating on the world as active optics, these intakes then become the defining temporal frame for how environments are framed and managed through operational images, to use Harun Farocki’s term, and which then operationalize how we see geographic spaces too. The time of photographic development (Niepce), or “cinematographic resolution of movement” (Lumière), or for that matter the “videographic high definition of a ‘real-time’ representation of appearances”[3] are part of Virilio’s broad chronology of time in technical media culture.

But what is at best implied in this cartography of active optics is the attention to mobilization of time as predictions and forecasts. For operations of time and production of times move from meteorological forecasting to computer models, and from computer models to a plethora of machine learning techniques that have become another site of transformation of what we used to call photography. Joanna Zylinska names this generative life of photography as its nonhuman realm of operations that rearranges the image further from any historical legacy of anthropocentrism to include a variety of other forms of action, representation and temporality.[4] The techniques of time and images push further what counts as operatively real, and what forms of technically induced hallucination – or, in short, in the context of this paper, machine learning – are part of current forms of production of information.

Also in information society, digital culture, images persist. They persist as markers of time in several senses that refer not only to what the image records – the photographic indexicality of a time passed nor the documentary status of images as used in various administrative and other contexts – but also what it predicts. Techniques of machine learning are one central aspect of the reformulation of images and their uses in contemporary culture: from video prediction of the complexity of multiple moving objects we call traffic (cars, pedestrians, etc.) to satellite imagery monitoring agricultural crop development and forest change. Such techniques have become one central example of where earth’s geological and geographical changes become understood through algorithmic time, and also where for instance the very rapidly changing vehicle traffic is treated alike as the much slower earth surface durations of crops. In all cases, a key aspect is the ability to perceive potential futures and fold them into the real-time decision-making mechanisms.

The computational microtemporality takes a futuristic turn; algorithmic processes of mobilizing datasets in machine learning become activated in different institutional context as scenarios, predictions and projections. Images run ahead of their own time as future-producing techniques.

Our article is interested in a distinct technique of imaging that speaks to the technical forms of time-critical images: Next Frame Prediction and the forms of predictive imagining employed in contemporary environmental images (such as agriculture and climate research). While questions about the “geopolitics of planetary modification”[5] have become a central aspect of how we think of the ontologies of materiality and the Earth as Kathryn Yusoff has demonstrated, we are interested in how these materialities are also produced on the level of images.

Real time data processing of the Earth not as a single view entity, but an intensively mapped set of relations that unfold in real time data visualisations becomes a central way of continuing the earlier more symbolic forms of imagery such as the Blue Marble.[6] Perhaps not deep time in the strictest geological terms, agricultural and other related environmental and geographical imaging are however one central way of understanding the visual culture of computational images that do not only record and represent, but predict and project as their modus operandi.

This text will focus on this temporality of the image that is part of these techniques from the microtemporal operation of Next Frame Prediction to how it resonates with contemporary space imaging practices. While the article is itself part of a larger project where we elaborate with theoretical humanities and artistic research methods the visual culture of environmental imaging, we are unable in this restricted space to engage with the multiple contexts of this aspect of visual culture. Hence we will focus on the question of computational microtime, the visualized and predicted Earth times, and the hinge at the centre of this: the predicted time that comes out as an image. The various chrono-techniques[7] that have entered the vocabulary of media studies are particularly apt in offering a cartography of what analytical procedures are at the back of producing time. Hence the issue is not only about what temporal processes are embedded in media technological operations, but what sounds like merely a tautological statement: what times are responsible for a production of time. What times of calculation produce imagined futures, statistically viable cases, predicted worlds? In other words, what microtemporal times are in our case at the back of a sense of a futurity that is conditioned in calculational, software based and dataset determined system?

[1] Sean Cubitt, Three Geomedia, in: Ctrl-Z 7, 2017.
[2] Paul Virilio, Polar Inertia, London-Thousand Oaks-New Delhi, 2000, S. 55.
[3] Ebenda, S.61
[4] See Joanna Zylinska, Nonhuman Photography, Cambridge (MA) 2017.
[5] Kathryn Yusoff, The Geoengine: geoengineering and the geopolitics of planetary modification, in: Environment and Planning a 45, 2013, S. 2799-2808.
[6] See also Benjamin Bratton, What We Do Is Secrete: On Virilio, Planetarity and Data Visualisation, in: John Armitage/Ryan Bishop (Hg.), Virilio and Visual Culture, Edinburgh 2013, S. 180–206, hier S. 200-203.
[7] Wolfgang Ernst, Chronopoetics. The Temporal Being and Operativity of Technological Media, London-New York 2016.



The Anthrobscene, the short booklet originally published by University of Minnesota Press, is now available in Spanish. Published by the Centro de Cultura Digital (in Mexico City) as Antropobsceno it is also now available as free e-pub download. The booklet was published in Portuguese in Brazil earlier this year.

Here’s Nora Khan’s earlier review essay about the Anthrobscene.


The Library’s Other Intelligences

May 26, 2018 1 comment

We are happy to publicly announce our art and curatorial project The Library’s Other Intelligences! Together with Shannon Mattern we are curating a show in Helsinki that includes three inspiring artists Jenna Sutela, Tuomas Laitinen and Samir Bhowmik who all engage in their work with the ecologies intelligence – artificial, artistic, ambient, architectural – that define the library as a cultural institution of knowledge. A key aspect of the project is that it is set as part of the new Helsinki Central Library Oodi – opening its doors in December.

The show opens in January and you can read more information here and if in Helsinki next week, please attend our event Alternative AI’s!

The project is realized through the Mobius Fellowship program of the Finnish Cultural Institute New York (and with the collaboration of Ilari Laamanen).

Surface Prediction

April 14, 2018 1 comment

I am giving a talk in Paris at the École Normale Supérieure and using it as an opportunity to present some new work. This writing stems from some collaborative work with artist Abelardo Gil-Fournier with whom we ran a collective workshop at transmediale on Surface Value . The practice-led workshop was set in the context of our larger discussion on surfaces, media and forms of valuation that pertain both to military and civilian spheres of images (such as aerial imaging) and continuing it in relation to contemporary forms of machine learning and neural networks that take their data from geographical datasets. Hence we are working on this question of prediction as it pertains to geographical and geological surfaces and how these forms of images (from time-lapse to prediction) present a special case for both financial uses of such predictive services and also their experimental angle as forms of moving image – experimental “video” art on a large scale.

Here’s a further excerpt from the talk that also draws on work by Giuliana Bruno, Lisa Parks, Caren Kaplan, Ryan Bishop and many others:

What I want to extract from this research platform that Gil-Fournier’s work offers are some speculative thoughts. At the basis of this is the idea that we can experiment with the correlation of an “imaged” past (the satellite time-lapses) with a machine generated “imaged” future and to test how futures work; how do predicted images compare against the historical datasets and time-lapses and present their own sort of a video of temporal landscapes meant to run just a bit ahead of its time. Naturally would easily risk naturalising things that are radically contingent: mining operations, capital investments, urban growth and financial valuations, geopolitical events, and such. But instead of proposing this as naturalisation, it works to expose some of the techniques through which landscapes are flattened into such a surface of not only inscription of data, but also images in movement. Here,  the speculative is not some sort of a radically distinguished practice that stands out as unique aberration but increasingly the modus operandi and the new normal of things  (Bratton 2016, 2017). What’s interesting is that it spreads out to a variety of fields: the image becomes a speculative one, with interesting implications how we start to think of video; it is also a financial one, as such data-feed mechanisms are also part of what Cubitt describes as one of the forms of geomedia; and it is about landscapes, as they are part of the longer lineage of how we read them as informational signs.

It’s here that the expanded image of a landscape is also embedded in a machine learning environment which also feed as part of financial environments. There are multiple ways how the ecology of images in machine learning works with time – the form of moving image that is the timelapse is also faced with the temporal image of predictions. The technical basis of digital video becomes one reference point for where to start unfolding the other sides of AI as machine learning: this is post-digital culture also in this sense, where not only images of earth surfaces change in view of the data analytics, but the aesthetic contexts of analysis – namely, moving image and video that feed forward (cf. Hansen).


[Image from Abelardo Gil-Fournier’s workshop materials].

Narratives of a Near Future: Air

February 13, 2018 Leave a comment

In December 2017, I gave one of the invited talks at the Geneva art school, HEAD. Under the main rubric of Narratives of Near Future, we were invited to address the Anthropocene. Mousse magazine wrote a review of the event and m y talk on air (and featuring a bit of Talking Heads) is now online and found here:

The Anthrobscene in Portuguese

November 14, 2017 Leave a comment

The short booklet the Anthrobscene has been translated into Portuguese in Brazil. The essay that  was a sort of a single release of the later A Geology of Media now features as part of the Open Access collection Configurações do pós-digital: arte e cultura tecnológicas, edited by​ Pablo Gobira & Tadeus Mucelli. The book’s foreword is written by Lucia Santaella.

With the new translation, I was also again left thinking  the title, the neologism it carries. Besides the obvious Baudrillard-connotation that was not supposed to be the main thrust of the term, an alternative link that I was reminded about today comes through Ian Sinclair’s discussion of the fringes of London as obscenery instead of scenery. In Esther Leslie’s description, Sinclair’s obscenery is somewhat rather apt concerning also the Anthrobscene picking up on the wastelandscape imageries: “..contained in that word [obscenery] is the sense of being off-scene, off the stage, out of sight and out of mind. Sinclair describes places of no memory, forgotten places, places where memory is expunged in waves of rebuilding, re-destroying, places of transit, places, such as the London Orbital motorway, the M25, designed to pass through and keep moving.” (Leslie, in Synthetic Worlds.)


You can download the book here.

Recently another Brazilian collection included some of my writing (as well as other translations and texts by Brazilian colleagues) on media archaeology. You can find more information about A(na)rqueologias das Mídias online.



Urban Technologies and Air Pollution

August 1, 2017 1 comment

I have a new article out in Fibreculture-journal’s new special issue Computing the City. My text “The Sensed Smog: Smart Ubiquitous Cities and the Sensorial Body” addresses questions of environmentality and media, and mediated environments through the perspective of smog and air pollution. Data about air pollution functions in various ways in the construction of the subject in infrastructures of the technological city, but the broader context of air and technology is approached also in  speculative ways. To quote a short passage:

“For a sketch of an alternative ecological art history (on art and the Anthropocene, see Davis and Turpin, 2015), one could claim that ozone depletion relates to radical molecular art since the 1970s. The 1970s mark a visual art historical period caused by photodissociation of key chemical agents such as CFCs, freons, halons as well as solvents, propellants, etc. It is a weird period when one starts to consider it from this perspective: problems of refrigeration and the invention of products such as freon have their residual aftereffects in the upper atmosphere which, as historian John McNeill notes, have not really until now featured as an important role in human history. Usually things that concern us have happened in the lower spheres of the planet (McNeill, 2000: 52). History has been atmospherically biased towards things much closer to human headspace. But the modern historical period rather concretely consists of carbon dioxide, ozone and sulphur dioxide (McNeill, 2000: 52), too, and this is not a feature restricted to that one particular narrative-atmospheric space. The massive increase in CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) amounts has resulted in what could be called the ‘ultraviolet century’ (McNeill, 2000: 114). The effect of the ozone depletion as we have grown to know it, is the increase in penetration of UV-light/radiation through the stratosphere, resulting in a different light balance from the 1970s to approximately to the year 2070 (as the restoration of the ozone protection layer is a slow process). This form of art historical period is registered on the skin and the organisms of humans as increased cancer rates; in animals such as whales as similar epidermal reactions (Thomas, 2010); in plants and crops, etc. Smog itself is also visible in the increase in cardiovascular diseases, asthma and lung inflammations, asthma for example.”

You can find the article and the whole issue here. Computing the City-special issue is edited by Armin Beverungen, Florian Sprenger and Susan Ballard.