January - April 2020
The introduction of the internet and subsequent technological advancement has allowed for new ways to reflect ourselves to the world around us. These reflections, in turn, have created new forms of communication and impacted the way we interact with one another. However, an unforeseen byproduct of this technological advancement is the introduction of various layers of abstraction. As our attempts to communicate pass through these layers, the original intent begins to take on a new meaning. This project is a series of AI videos that explores how technology transforms communication into something new, a reflection from the original intent. How do we use technology to mediate our social interactions and how do these interactions form digital archetypes of ourselves?
Without a Reflection addresses these questions by adding layers of abstraction to each step of the digital communication process, until the original intent takes on an entirely new meaning. These layers act as filters for both the verbal and visual and allow us to examine each step of the process as it transforms. But like each digital message there is still a trace of its origin. So the original voice is left untouched, as a digital trace tying the viewer to the original intent.
The project leaves an openness for the viewer to decide for themselves how they feel about each output. Is this new communication part of our evolution as a species or is it taking for granted the core of what it means to be human? Should what we put forward always be edited versions of ourselves or does this allow new opportunities for self expression?
To examine the process, I first started with the person. I reached out to a group of people and had each person video tape themselves reading one to two lines that I gave them. By giving them a set line to say, I removed their ability to communicate their own message.
These lines were actually generated using OpenAI's natural language model GPT2. GPT-2 generates textual outputs in the style of the source text it is trained on. I trained two separate models off of two different source texts.
The first source text was taken from the Missed Connections forum, which is “a type of personal advertisement which arose after two people met but were too shy or otherwise unable to exchange contact details”. Missed connections stood at the beginning of when we started communicating online. It allowed a second chance at missed opportunities with the hope of physically meeting again.
The second source text was a collection of personal accounts of the negative and positive effects social distancing was having on people as well as the creative, fun and weird ways people were spending their time. These were found on reddit, twitter and through personal submissions of friends and others in the ITP community through google forms. Unlike Missed connections, social distancing was about starting together and moving outward into isolation, forced to communicate behind our devices. Social distancing is a total removal of our physical selves in our communication with each other.
Both source texts were chosen because they represent moments of disconnection. In total, twenty outputs were chosen, half from missed connections and the other half from social distancing. The use of GPT-2 acts as the verbal filter, diluting, scrambling our words and therefore it’s meaning. What we hear is an abstracted version of the original message.
Next, I added a visual abstraction by overlaying each person’s face with an AI generated face. These were digital reflections of our physical selves that we use to communicate. I allowed each person to choose from a collection of faces.