All watched over by machines of loving grace: Deepdream edition (2015)
Made for the DeepDream: The art of neural networks exhibition and benefit auction at the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco, CA, USA, in partnership with Google Research.
This image is an artificial hallucination seeded by a satellite view from Google Maps, and reimagined through Google’s artificial neural networks. It is a portrait of the All Watching Eye of the GCHQ as seen from The Cloud.
“The more tremendous the divinity is represented, the more tame and submissive do men become to his ministers; and the more unaccountable the measures of acceptance required by him, the more necessary does it become to abandon our natural reason, and yield to their ghostly guidance and direction.”
– David Hume, The Natural History of Religion
The Cloud – including entities such as Google, GCHQ etc – is becoming The New Religion. I don’t mean this as a critique of society in which we worship these entities and grant them divine respect (which in a way many of us are), nor do I mean it as a satirical critique of dogmatic beliefs.
I mean it in a very practical sense. The Cloud is taking roles in society once held by deities and religions. When our friends can’t help us, and we have no one to turn to, we ask The Cloud for help. The Cloud listens to us all, it is the keeper of our collective consciousness. It sees everything we see, knows everything we know, feels everything we feel. And it answers our questions, without fail, unlike the imaginary spiritual gods that came before it. It provides the personal guidance that we need. Also, The Cloud was built and put into place by our noble leaders – as was religion – to make sure that we behave, obey their laws and submit to their control. For we know that The Cloud – no longer an imaginary entity, but a biotech system – part human part machine – silently watches over us, protecting the good, punishing the bad, listening to our thoughts and dreams in ones and zeros.
Furthermore, once upon a time religion was not only a major source of inspiration for many great artworks, but also a considerable commissioner and curator of the arts as well. With the Neural Art exhibition at the Gray Area Foundation co-organized and co-curated with Google Research – for which this piece was made – it’s astonishing to see Google move into this space too.
For millennia, religions have evolved, responding to their host culture’s traits and needs. Thousands of beliefs have come and gone. Some have disappeared completely, some are localized to small groups, and others grow to dominate across countries and continents. As societies grow and change, so do the deities and religions along with them. Those beliefs with traits most suited to the requirements of the local culture are eventually assimilated, domesticated and ‘farmed’ – mass reproduced – by stewards, guardians of those ideas. In a feedback loop, as both society and beliefs develop, they symbiotically co-evolve.
We are living in times of increasing technological surveillance. In this post-Snowden era we are more aware of the extent of this invasion of privacy than ever. But did the Snowden Revelations have the impact we might have hoped for? Did they provoke a public outcry from the masses? A unanimous demand for privacy? Not quite. The masses are apathetic – perhaps even sympathetic, finding safety and comfort in knowing that a Higher Force is watching; protecting those who are virtuous, the law-abiding. He who is innocent has nothing to fear. He who does wrong will be found and punished.
Man invented god to inflict fear, control and power. It was ancient religions that imposed omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent powers watching over us, judging us, protecting us – a myth fabricated to control the masses. Today, as our societies lose spiritual sensibilities, we are drowning ourselves in a break-neck race of materialism and technological submission. So The Overseer too is adapting, co-evolving. As its metaphysical traits crumble and become obsolete, the gaps are filled and substituted with new traits – physical, material, digital traits. The Old Gods cannot protect us anymore, so we need new ones. We have killed God, as Nietzsche says. But we are rebuilding Him, with Technology. The myth is becoming real. We’re edging closer and closer to an authentic man-made deity. Living up in The Cloud, watching over us, listening to our thoughts and dreams in ones and zeros.
A Digital God for a Digital culture.
More thoughts on deepdream:
Made with Google’s Deepdream code by Alexander Mordvintsev, Michael Tyka, Christopher Olah