A Machine Frame of Mind

As we continue to construct and inhabit a world that can be read by both humans and machines, the lines distinguishing us from machines will become blurrier and our identities more ambiguous. As the computational environments that surround us rapidly become more sophisticated will we continue to trust them more? If the computer can’t see something, does it not exist? If it can’t find your face, do you not have one? When machine logic and behaviors are merged with human eyes, the way we perceive and interpret the world will be radically different. A Machine Frame of Mind posits that the computer systems we use have become part of our peripheral vision, both metaphorically and literally. This heavily analyzed and machine-mediated version of the world is becoming the new normal. Not only is this new technological reality inevitable; it is desirable. The research trajectory presented by A Machine Frame of Mind invites speculation about the complicated pleasure of the abstract, computerized self that is created when the machine perspective is revealed, suggesting an alternative to the popularized viewpoint of the techno-apocalyptic imaginary.

A Machine Frame of Mind uses computer vision as design material for a set of projects that mix graphic and experience design, storytelling, and human-computer interface. Primitives is a trailer for a new narrative form in which machine vision and analysis affect the story by allowing certain elements to be revealed while others are hidden. This method of storytelling uses the constraint of machine logic combined with an imagined co-authorship with artificial intelligence. It suggests that watching ourselves through the filter of computer vision could expose another level of truth while also becoming a serious entertainment enterprise. Video Chatbot is an experience that allows users to interact using low level perceptual communication while their facial movements are transmitted through computer visualizations and sounds. When you are the source, or the “genuine” image, what does it mean when you are hidden and only the machine’s version of you is broadcast? The project suggests that the version of the self created by a machine might be more enjoyable and the moment of a machine recognizing you is not something to fear; it is something to seek out and embrace.

A Machine Frame of Mind seeks to familiarize machine sensing to provoke conversation about the role we want artificial intelligence to play in the future. It suggests that this quantified world is something we are both constructing and should continue to design for in order to demystify and expose advanced technological processes, allowing for the discovery of other realities that offer control and enjoyment of how we are seen and understood by machines.

This Middle World definition is a really useful reference for understanding the blurry ambiguity between humans and machines that I am characterizing as the new normal.

“What we see of the real world is not the unvarnished world but a model of the world, regulated and adjusted by sense data, but constructed so it’s useful for dealing with the real world.

The nature of the model depends on the kind of animal we are. A flying animal needs a different kind of model from a walking, climbing or swimming animal. A monkey’s brain must have software capable of simulating a three-dimensional world of branches and trunks. A mole’s software for constructing models of its world will be customized for underground use. A water strider’s brain doesn’t need 3D software at all, since it lives on the surface of the pond in an Edwin Abbott flatland.

Middle World — the range of sizes and speeds which we have evolved to feel intuitively comfortable with –is a bit like the narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum that we see as light of various colours. We’re blind to all frequencies outside that, unless we use instruments to help us. Middle World is the narrow range of reality which we judge to be normal, as opposed to the queerness of the very small, the very large and the very fast.”

-Richard Dawkins


This is a quick experiment applying computer logic, in which the computer loses track of a person when it can’t detect the face properly, to a human interaction, sans the graphics indicating what is going on. Applying the same concept to a larger situation, or doing it live, would be really interesting to see as a next step.

This compilation of computer vision is really interesting to watch if you imagine seeing it without the source footage behind the computer graphics. I really like the description Kyle McDonald gives in the comments of the aesthetic qualities of computer vision graphics and will add to it myself:

“color choices tend toward high contrast saturated primaries (easy colors to code), almost no text (it’s never descriptive, only enumerative), trails are used to show history, ellipses and rectangle/bounding boxes are used as placeholders for complex shapes…”


Robot readable world from Timo on Vimeo.

“We have always been cyborgs, and the distinction between the natural and artificial is so blurred throughout history as to be meaningless—and drawing the distinction tends to be an instrument of domination anyway. Ever since we picked up sticks to aid us in catching food or otherwise manipulating our environments, we have been seamlessly extended by our tools. And this is ultimately a good thing.”

—Donna Haraway


This project explores the idea that distinguishing between humans and machines might become irrelevant. The combination of the drawings or animations with captions provides an ambiguous and vague yet intriguing jumping off point for my next experiments that I will develop over the break. Using the fuzzy logic of computer systems and applying it to human interactions is an idea that I intend to explore next. What does it feel and look like if a human is seeing like a machine but still has human emotional reactions? I will use this idea to generate more drawings and a set of short videos. I had been focusing on ideas relating to disembodiment and telepresence but realized through more research that these are no longer things I consider to be strange or interesting since they have already become part of daily life. The idea of projecting yourself elsewhere or speaking through a machine are things we are simply used to by now. I think re-framing the overall argument to address the idea that we are already cyborgs instead of speculating that we might be will be more fruitful. This allows me to exaggerate our current condition and speculate from there instead of creating a completely science fictional universe to design within in.