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Clouds

I think about clouds a lot. They’re really strange things – on one hand, humans have gone to great lengths to characterize different kinds of clouds, creating intricate cloud atlases and taxonomies. On the other hand, when we look at clouds we tend to imagine them taking different shapes – faces, animals, and whatnot. AndContinue reading “Clouds”

Undersea Cables

When I was working on the Landing Sites images, it occurred to me that if one were to literally “dive into” the seascapes that I was making images of, one should theoretically be able to see the actual material conjunctions of internet cables that I was trying to learn how to “see.” To do thisContinue reading “Undersea Cables”

The Other Night Sky

This is an ongoing project to track and photograph the world of secret satellites that are above our heads nearly constantly. Although the satellites I track and photograph in this series are not typically acknowledged by the United States, they are cataloged and observed by an international network of amateur “satellite observers,” whose observations IContinue reading “The Other Night Sky”

ImageNet Roulette

ImageNet Roulette was part of a broader project to draw attention to the things that can – and regularly do – go wrong when artificial intelligence models are trained on problematic training data. ImageNet Roulette is trained on the “person” categories from a dataset called ImageNet (developed at Princeton and Stanford Universities in 2009), oneContinue reading “ImageNet Roulette”

Making Faces

Kate Crawford and I were invited by Prada Mode to create an exhibition and cultural program at the iconic Maxim’s restaurant in Paris. We transformed the space into a story about the history of facial analysis and a reminder of the dark histories from which contemporary facial recognition systems emerge. Pages from 19th Century phrenologyContinue reading “Making Faces”

Challenge Coins

The Challenge Coins are wall-mounted sculptures whose designs are inspired by various military and law-enforcement “challenge coins.” These are awarded to the participants of special operations  successfully undertaking aspects of particular missions. These tokens serve as both a competitive incentive for high levels of performance and a manifest form of symbolic currency, marking the acquisitionContinue reading “Challenge Coins”

The Fence

In 1979, astronomer W. T. “Woody” Sullivan worked with two undergraduates at the University of Washington to publish a now-classic paper entitled “Eavesdropping: The Radio Signature of Earth.” Sullivan et al. found that the brightest continuous signals emanating from earth came from military radar systems designed to detect ballistic missiles and track satellites in earth orbit,Continue reading “The Fence”

Rendition Flights

In the early 2000s, I did a lot of work investigating the CIA’s so-called “extraordinary rendition” program. This was a program to kidnap, disappear, and torture people that the agency accused of terrorism. Done mostly in collaboration with investigative journalist AC Thompson, the work involved tracking airplanes that we knew the CIA was using forContinue reading “Rendition Flights”

Black Sites

With the beginning of the so-called War on Terror in the early 2000s, the CIA set up a network of secret prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. Hundreds of “ghost prisoners” went through this system of extrajudicial disappearance and imprisonment. The black sites became synonymous with torture. The locations of the secret prisonsContinue reading “Black Sites”

Image Operations

Shot in Berlin’s historic Funkhaus, Image Operations. Op.10 is a video installation that highlights emerging forms of computer vision and machine learning. A string quartet performs Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10. As the video evolves, the perspective of the view slowly changes from that of a camera, to that of an arrayContinue reading “Image Operations”

Symbology

Military culture is filled with a totemic visual language consisting of symbols and insignia that signify everything from various unit and command affiliations to significant events, and noteworthy programs. A typical uniform will sport patches identifying its wearer’s job, program affiliation, achievements and place within the military hierarchy. These markers of identity and program heraldryContinue reading “Symbology”

Everyday Landscapes & Seventeen Letters from the Deep State

Everyday Landscape: Sportsflight Airways, Richmor Aviation, Dyncorp, Central Intelligence Agency, 1996-2006 is a sustained investigation into a network of aviation companies, private intelligence firms, state officials, and monied interests behind several covert government actions, including aspects of the CIA’s rendition program. Created from years of research into legal documents coupled with painstaking, paparazzi-like photographic work,Continue reading “Everyday Landscapes & Seventeen Letters from the Deep State”

Limit Telephotography

Much of the history of surveillance, secrecy, and militarism can be found deep in the American deserts, where classified military bases and weapon ranges litter the remotest landscapes. Tucked away within massive restricted military ranges and buffered by dozens of miles of restricted land, there is often nowhere on Earth where a civilian might beContinue reading “Limit Telephotography”

Color Studies

In the early 2000s I spent a number of years volunteering as an anti-prison activist, mostly producing media to assist in grassroots organizing campaigns against the construction of new prisons in California. Over the course of this work, I spent time with people in rural communities where the majority of prisons were being constructed. California’sContinue reading “Color Studies”

89 Landscapes

89 Landscapes is a dual-channel video installation comprising material I filmed for Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ Academy Award-winning film about Edward Snowden. The installation presents a series of landscapes, all of which have some kind of intrinsic relationship to the NSA’s mass surveillance infrastructures.

Orbital Reflector

Produced in collaboration with the Nevada Museum of Art, Orbital Reflector is a sculpture constructed of a lightweight and highly-reflective polyethylene material housed in a small box-like satellite bus. The satellite was meant to be inserted into orbit and after a few days deploy the reflective structure, creating a 100m long diamond-shaped mirror to reflect sunlightContinue reading “Orbital Reflector”

Nonfunctional Satellites

The “nonfunctional satellites” are sculptures designed to be placed into low-earth orbit where they will appear as bright points of light slowly moving across the sky to viewers on earth’s surface. They are designed to last for only a few weeks before burning up in the atmosphere. Developed in collaboration with aerospace engineers, the designsContinue reading “Nonfunctional Satellites”

Landing Sites

As part of a larger project looking at the material infrastructures of the internet and mass surveillance, I located and photographed some of the primary “choke points” on the internet backbone – places where multiple undersea cables reach land and connect the continents together. Each photograph had two “rules”: first, the conjunction of internet cablesContinue reading “Landing Sites”

Autonomy Cube

Autonomy Cube is a sculpture designed to be housed in art museums, galleries, and civic spaces. The sculpture is meant to be both “seen” and “used.” This happens in several ways. Internet‐connected computers housed within the work create an open Wi‐Fi hotspot called “Autonomy Cube” wherever it is installed. Anyone can join this network andContinue reading “Autonomy Cube”

From ‘Apple’ to ‘Anomaly’ (Pictures and Labels)

For a 2019 commission in the Barbican’s Curve Gallery in London, I took a close look at the most widely-used “training set” used in AI – ImageNet, a database of over 14 million images organized into more than twenty-thousand categories. The installation was made out of approximately 30,000 individually printed photographs, showing the precarious relationshipsContinue reading “From ‘Apple’ to ‘Anomaly’ (Pictures and Labels)”

They Took the Faces…

Contemporary facial-recognition algorithms were first properly researched in the early 1990s. To conduct that research, computer scientists and software engineers need large collections of faces to experiment with and to use as performance benchmarks. Before the advent of social media, a common source of faces for this research and development came from mugshots of accusedContinue reading “They Took the Faces…”

Eagle-Eye Photo Contest

While photographing and shooting a video of NSA infrastructures in Germany for Laura Poitras’ film Citizenfour, I was stopped and interrogated by police and military on a nearly daily basis. Although what I was doing was perfectly legal, the military still insisted on harassing me while I was doing my job. My response was toContinue reading “Eagle-Eye Photo Contest”

Training Humans

I conceptualized this exhibition with Kate Crawford to tell a story about the history of images used to ‘recognize’ humans in computer vision and AI systems. We weren’t interested in either the hyped, marketing version of AI nor the tales of dystopian robot futures. We wanted to engage with the materiality of AI, and toContinue reading “Training Humans”

Sites Unseen

Sites Unseen was a major solo exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum curated by John P. Jacob, where I presented my early photographic series alongside more recent sculptural objects and new work with AI. With this exhibition I continued my contribution to the ongoing conversation about privacy and surveillance in contemporary society. There wasContinue reading “Sites Unseen”

The Trolls

As part of broader efforts to manage cyber bullying and online trolls, AI researchers are attempting to create algorithms that automatically detect what kinds of online content constitute “trolling.”  This piece is made from a dataset designed to teach AI algorithms what kinds of language patterns are typical of online trolling. Viewers should be warnedContinue reading “The Trolls”

Hallucinations

One of the most common applications of Artificial Intelligence is to do automatic object-recognition and image-captioning. When you upload an image to Facebook or other social media, powerful Artificial Intelligence algorithms can recognize the identities of people in images, the objects, the products and even the places depicted in those images. AIs are taught howContinue reading “Hallucinations”

Behold these Glorious Times!

This video installation is composed of images from two sources. The photographic images in the video are parts of training libraries used to teach artificial intelligence networks how to recognize objects, faces, gestures, relationships, emotions, and much more. They are images designed to teach machines “how to see.” The second kind of images in thisContinue reading “Behold these Glorious Times!”

Fanon

A standard technique in facial recognition software is to use an algorithm to create a “faceprint” of a given person and to use that faceprint to try and match a person’s face with photos. To grossly oversimplify, if you want to teach an algorithm how to distinguish a particular person (say Fanon) from a collectionContinue reading “Fanon”

Shoshone Falls

This is a photograph of an iconic location in the history of Western landscape photography. The 19th Century photographer Timothy O’Sullivan famously shot these falls on a survey mission for the American Department of War. His images of this waterfall are some of his most iconic works and some of the most well-known images ofContinue reading “Shoshone Falls”

Machine-Readable Hito & Holly

These two pieces are made out of hundreds of portraits of artist Hito Steyerl and sound artist and composer Holly Herndon that have been analyzed by various facial-analysis algorithms. Below each picture is the output of algorithms attempting to detect their age, gender, and emotional state. Other algorithms attempt to determine whether they are wearingContinue reading “Machine-Readable Hito & Holly”

Megalith

One of the earliest tasks that neural networks and Artificial Intelligence could do reliably well was to recognize written numbers. These sorts of number-recognition systems are ubiquitous, as anyone who’s ever had an ATM automatically read the handwritten numbers of a deposited check knows. Megalith is made out of nearly 70,000 handwritten digits that representContinue reading “Megalith”

An Entangled Bank

“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth.” So begins the last paragraph of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. For Darwin, life is not reducible to bitsContinue reading “An Entangled Bank”

A Dictionary of Volapük

In 1879 in Baden, Germany, Father Johann Martin Schleyer created a universal language at the behest of God, speaking to Schleyer in a dream. He called this new language Volapük or “World Speak.” Volapük was a simple language meant to give Catholic readers from different linguistic backgrounds an easier time reading aloud from the Bible.Continue reading “A Dictionary of Volapük”

It Began as a Military Experiment

Contemporary research into facial recognition technology began in earnest in the mid-1990s at the behest of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The military wanted facial recognition to exist, so DARPA began funding researchers in computer science and computer vision to work on the problem. The military realized that to do facial recognition, researchersContinue reading “It Began as a Military Experiment”

Contrails

Two condensation trails from unknown aircraft flying within the borders of the Air Force’s R-4808N Restricted Airspace. The R-4808N airspace is a section of classified airspace within a larger swath of restricted airspace in central Nevada. Uncleared military pilots inadvertently flying into “the Box” or “the Container” (as they call the ultra-restricted airspace) during war-gameContinue reading “Contrails”

Angelus Novus

Philosopher Walter Benjamin’s last essay, On the Concept of History, excoriates the notion of “progress.” For Benjamin, history is not a linear march led by great men towards a glorious future, but a circular series of endless catastrophe, where we repeat the same humanitarian, political, and economic crises over and over. Benjamin illustrates this ideaContinue reading “Angelus Novus”

Karnak

I often think about the different histories of photography – how they intersect and diverge and how so much necessarily gets left out by any attempt to tell a coherent story about the history of the medium. I think a lot about the various histories of photography in the western US – a history ofContinue reading “Karnak”

Drones

This is a series of photographs of the skies in the Nevada desert. American military and intelligence drones all over the world are flown by pilots here (at places like Creech Air Force Base and “Area 52”) via satellite uplink. In these prints, small Predator, Reaper, and Sentinel drones dot the skyscapes.

The Last Pictures

This project was inspired by an image that came from my work tracking secret satellites. Over the course of my work on satellites, I realized that certain kinds of satellites – those in geosynchronous orbits – experience virtually no drag from the atmosphere below and consequently stay in orbit for extremely long amounts of timeContinue reading “The Last Pictures”

Trinity Cube

Irradiated broken glass collected from inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone forms the outer layer of this sculpture. The work’s inner core is made out of Trinitite, the mineral created on July 16, 1945 when the United States exploded the world’s first atomic bomb near Alamogordo, New Mexico, heating the desert’s surface to the point whereContinue reading “Trinity Cube”

Excavating AI

This is an article that I co-authored with my friend and collaborator Kate Crawford, who directs the AI Now Institute at NYU. In the article we take a look at some of the bad assumptions and bad politics built into the architecture of the training data used in AI systems.

The X-37B

The American Air Force’s secretive X-37B space-plane-drone is back after it’s fifth mission in orbit. There’s some controversy about whether it deployed an array of small secret satellites in violation of the United Nations’ Registration Convention, which says that all countries have to report on the satellites they put into orbit.  I photographed the X-37BContinue reading “The X-37B”

Sight Machine

Sight Machine is a collaboration with San Francisco’s legendary Kronos Quartet. While the Kronos Quartet perform works by Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich, Islam Chipsy and others, the musicians are monitored by cameras feeding into a suite of Artificial Intelligence algorithms. Images of what the machines “see” while looking at the performers are projectedContinue reading “Sight Machine”