Video Of The Week: Something Thinking of You by Ian Cheng

This is an art project by Ian Cheng that is livestreaming on YouTube this month. My daughter Jessica helped Ian get this up and streaming. She works for Ian part-time.

What is cool about this art project is that it is machine made, meaning that the scenes are being created by a machine, and the project evolves over time. If you check in tomorrow, it will look different from what it looks like today because it has evolved over time.

We’ve been running this on the monitor in the USV lobby along with some other video art this month, so if you’ve been by our office you’ve probably seen this already.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    Cool. How does the project evolve over time, i.e. what makes these change happen?

    1. fredwilson

      It’s software. The code makes the changes

      1. William Mougayar

        Ok, what’s the input to the software changes? Is it random? What influences the seeds of the changes?

        1. Twain Twain

          Maybe Jessica will pop up in comments and enlighten us?

        2. LE

          Could be this, I took a guess and googled “algorithm art”This can either be a random number generator of some sort, or an external body of data (which can range from recorded heartbeats to frames of a movie.) Some artists also work with organically based gestural input which is then modified by an algorithm.…For a work of art to be considered algorithmic art, its creation must include a process based on an algorithm devised by the artist. Here, an algorithm is simply a detailed recipe for the design and possibly execution of an artwork, which may include computer code, functions, expressions, or other input which ultimately determines the form the art will take. This input may be mathematical, computational, or generative in nature. Inasmuch as algorithms tend to be deterministic, meaning that their repeated execution would always result in the production of identical artworks, some external factor is usually introduced. This can either be a random number generator of some sort, or an external body of data (which can range from recorded heartbeats to frames of a movie.) Some artists also work with organically based gestural input which is then modified by an algorithm.

          1. William Mougayar

            Interesting. Thanks “gestural input” – that ought to get Twain’s attention.

          2. Richard

            As well as the yankees / jays series !

          3. William Mougayar

            Big game today!!!

          4. Twain Twain

            Haha!So the thing about gestures is that with camera lens, we can calculate all sorts of vector space data points about where each digit is.This is how green screen and CGI works in the movies, e.g. Smeagoll in Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Avatar as examples.Then we can apply probability algorithms, random generators and physics engines either to:(1.) Figure out where the hand might move next — very useful if you were programming a tennis game where the machine is playing against human as in Kinect / Wii.(2.) Trigger where specific pixels on the canvas change color, shape and form as in Ian Cheng’s piece.(3.) Do ‘Angry Birds’.When Google+ was first released and had games, I beat all the Google engineers and games nerds on ‘Angry Birds’, by the way — including Sergei Brin.

          5. Richard

            Probably a trigonometric function

  2. sigmaalgebra

    In addition to the animal sounds, at some point, might have the scene evolve to dawn and, there, add some music. So, might borrow from Stanley Kubrick and use, say,Also Sprach Zarathustra, Richard Strauss…Ah, just teasing!

    1. Dave Pinsen

      The most effective music Kubrick included in 2001 were Ligeti’s compositions, IMO. My favorite is Lux Aeterna (used in the scene, tough to find on YouTube, where the moon bus flies to the Tycho Magnetic Anomaly.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        The movie 2001? Wow! As at…with the IMDB page for that movie, it was from 1968. When I first saw that movie, I knew less about music!Right. The music for the trip on the moon in the shuttle to the monolith was amazing.At…are the composer credits for 2001:Aram KhachaturyanGyörgy LigetiRichard StraussJohann StraußSo, both Strauss composers, Ligeti, and even Khachaturyan. I’d thought I’d heard that there was also some music by Henryk Górecki (somewhere I have a CD of some of his music), but apparently not.Ah, on details of movies, tough for my biological memory to compete with a Google keyword search and IMDB!There’s a lot of music and uses of music in that movie, and I never went through the whole movie to find what parts of the movie used what composer. Yes, the shuttle trip did stick out. My copy of the movie is just on VCR so that going through it scene by scene for the music is not so easy!E.g., I have no idea where Khachaturyan got used! They didn’t use his Saber Dance did they?The performance used there of the Johann Strauß Blue Danube always seemed special. Apparently that performance is at…the timing and dynamics there are intense where by the timing I mean the liberties taken with respect to a strict beat from, say, a metronome. Of course, it is traditional in a waltz to have a retard, but unusually often that performance is ahead of the beat, behind the beat, faster, slower, etc., all with an intensity.To see the difference, there is good but more common and less intense performance at…The same music but as art very different. Amazing.For one of the nicest performances of the Blue Danube, at least parts of it, see…which is the whole 1940 movie Spring Parade staring Deanna Durbin.About 15 minutes into the movie, Durbin’s character is riding a hay wagon into Vienna and sings, with some words added, a few bars here and there from the waltz.That little movie was at one point a nice part of a needed lesson for me: I grew up with some significant advantages and a relatively good, eventually excellent, education, but, due to some issues of parts of US culture, missed some lessons about girls, women, people, and art. I liked music right away, starting, apparently, before age 5, a lot, and that was the first progress with the lessons. Eventually I got the lessons but, in total, paid “full tuition”.However, that movie was made in 1940, and the people who made it understood, with a grade of A+, those lessons. Those people were darned good. Really good. And they got the lessons up on the screen — just black and white, low resolution, etc., but, still, they got an A+. They were good at those lessons, darned good, amazingly good. Of course, 1940 was not nearly the first case of such understanding since we could go back at least to Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, etc.Gee, a search engine for Internet content that could honor such aspects of content? Sure, have the software running!More generally, one way and another, off and on, often on, early on there was a lot of musical talent in Hollywood — a lot of really good talent. E.g., Korngold, but much more.Music? Yes. Geometry? Maybe not so much! IIRC there are some geometry problems in the 2001 movie near the arrival of the shuttle at the monolith on the moon!Also, IIRC there was an interview of Kubrick, a guy with one heck of a good visual sense, mentioning “the dark side” of the moon. Sorry, Stanley: You are amazing with a camera, but there is no “dark” side to the moon! A back side, yes. Dark? No!Ah, where can I apply to be the guy driving the hay wagon with Deanna Durbin singing parts of The Blue Danube?Ah, Vienna! I know; it was just nicely flavored chicken fat from making chicken stock, but they called it schmaltz! E.g., Fritz Kreisler and Liebesfreud as at…although, curiously, to my ear there are better performances, e.g., as at…by Henryk Szeryng.Mark Twain: “Youth is such a wonderful time of life. Too bad it’s wasted on young people.”

        1. Dave Pinsen

          The Khachaturyan piece plays at the beginning of the Jupiter mission, when we first see the space ship Discovery.

          1. sigmaalgebra


  3. Mario Cantin

    It looks like what Skynet’s idea of art would be.Instead of relaxing me, it makes me feel uneasy in a way that makes me glad that the singularity hasn’t happened yet, ha ha!It’s to be expected as it is art without the human soul.Cool project though.Here’s an interesting thought: Ian Chang creating it is more art than the art the creation itself is creating.

    1. Twain Twain

      Singularity theory has a fundamental flaw: the assumption that data processing speed is the same as data velocity.Velocity means the data has a directionality which affects its meaning and its context and the ability of the machines to understand that data’s meaning.I just wrote an article that’ll be syndicated on Hacker News next week in which I write: “Notably, machines being able to do correlations faster also still doesn’t mean they can surface or understand the causal links between data points better.”The Singularity theory supposes the machines will somehow “make a leap in consciousness” just because it can process the data faster.We get more and more data every day from Fred but that doesn’t suddenly give us Fred’s consciousness, does it?

      1. Mario Cantin

        Here’s what my counter-current, against-the-grain, contrarian view is, not that anyone will care: the singularity will never happen (let us keep in mind, it’s aptly named *artificial*, not real, intelligence); instead, it might be discovered that thoughts don’t actually emanate in the brain itself, although they can be registered and influenced there by chemical compounds, leading to the (remote) possibly that our consciousness could be transferred to machines. That’s the closest I predict we could come.There you have it. You all have my blessing to go ahead and laugh in disbelief and derision.It’s at least the basis for a good plot line for a movie, so bite me… 🙂

        1. Twain Twain

          Ha! See what I wrote yesterday: “Meanwhile, the human brain is affected by biochemical and cultural factors (e.g. emotions, language, perceptions) which govern how it works (filters information, risk manages and prioritizes options, decides, and actions that thinking as behavior).”By all means, a MATHEMATICAL Singularity may occur — in much the same way the tan curve heads off to infinity.However, a mathematical singularity is not the same as human or machine consciousness.

          1. Mario Cantin

            Mind meld!

          2. Twain Twain

            “When we talk mathematics, we may be discussing a secondary language built on the primary language of the nervous system.” — John von Neumann, mathematician and a father of computing.Now, do we agree with Von Neumann or do we agree with Singularity proponents who believe intelligence is purely mathematical and can only be modeled with mathematics?Especially given that the secrets in DNA and Neuroscience are only now being researched and unlocked, decades after Von Neumann’s time?I think, if Von Neumann and Turing were alive, they’d have a different framework than Mathematical Singularity as being the apex of Machine Intelligence and as the event horizon for machine consciousness.

          3. Mario Cantin

            No idea, I’d have to do some serious reading before I could hope to add anything useful at this point.

          4. Twain Twain

            Read some Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel for Economics based on his psychology research from 1970s and 1980s:*…That’s more accessible than deep diving into the maths of AI (probability, logic, vector spaces, Turing, Von Neumann etc.) straight out.I only know their works because they (the Royal Society) introduced me to Turing when I was 12 in their classes.

          5. Mario Cantin

            Saved it to the Pocket app for later read, thanks.Royal Society? Are you a Fellow?

          6. Twain Twain

            You have to be an academic and nominated by peer academics to be a Fellow and I’m not an academic.They admitted me to their maths masterclasses and maths summer school on the basis of some tests my teachers made me take.

          7. Mario Cantin

            I see. I have a nasty suspicion that your IQ might be just “a hair” higher than mine, as in maybe 4o points, ha ha!

          8. Twain Twain

            Higher IQ ≠ more Intelligent.Lionel Messi may not score as highly as a maths professor on the spatial and logic reasoning of an IQ test but he’s undoubtedly more intelligent than the maths professor in how he applies his natural intelligence to projectile launch free kicks and find shortest paths to goal whilst weaving past defenders! Haha!

          9. Mario Cantin

            …especially when you start factoring other things such as drive and resilience, etc.

  4. Twain Twain

    An artist friend has been working on ‘The Dreaming Machine’ for about 7 years, fusing AI with art:*

  5. Twain Twain

    “For hundreds of years, one of the most common measures of intelligence was the chessboard. Now that Deep Blue and its silicon cousins have bested their human counterparts in this regard, music, language and art remain some of the last vestiges of human intellectual superiority. If DARPA’s project succeeds, it’s not unthinkable that we will look back upon this as one of the final nails in the coffin of human exceptionalism.”*

  6. Twain Twain

    Intersection between Art and AI is where some key breakthroughs in technology will be in years to come, says Twain.

    1. Jess Bachman

      And some breakthroughs in art as well.

      1. Twain Twain

        Fractals = maths as art. The last one shows the Romanesco Broccoli which is an example of fractals occurring in nature.

      2. Twain Twain

        Escher’s an example of an artist who’s also a mathematician.Breakthroughs do often happen when we find creative and technical skills in one person.

        1. awaldstein

          The art form where deep technical and scientific understanding inform the art is most evident in photography I think.Check out the work of Alfred Eisenstaedt as a case in point.

          1. Twain Twain

            Thanks, you’re absolutely right.Even more so before the age of digital lens and Photoshopping.The photographer understood how the chemicals in the film would be exposed / gain hues according to aperture, shutter speeds, focus, exclusion of different parts of the spectrum by filters etc.On top of this, the symmetry or juxtaposition of the compositional components.I have this weird 6th sense / OCD about whether lines, angles and incidental shapes around the central focal object are symmetrical with it.My brain literally can gauge when it’s 1 pixel out which is annoys my friends because they’re like, “Just take the photo already!” and I’m, “No, wait. The moment will be there in a millisecond…”

          2. Twain Twain

            Oh and this B+W photo of workmen enjoying lunch on a girder is from a Time article:*

          3. awaldstein

            I grew up being lectured on the physical properties of the world from my dad who was a physicist and looking at the pics of Eisenstaedt, Bourke-White, Feininger and others in Life Magazine.And yes, my dad made us learn how to take pics and develop film.

          4. Twain Twain

            Lucky you to have a physicist Dad!!!My Dad got us interested in STEM via his interests in the natural world, car engines, electronics and photography. We were always looking up and out to wherever he pointed.It helped my art a lot too.

  7. jason wright

    i felt the need to look away after a short while. there’s no tangible human reference point and i found that a little bit disturbing. this ‘machine’ thing is popping up everywhere and it’s beginning to get me just ever so slightly concerned about the future. do we know where we’re going with all of this?! i’ll have a vodka orange. make that a double.

    1. Bruce Warila

      The trend reminds me of when people in the 60’s covered up their hardwood floors with carpet.

      1. LE

        And in the 70’s when they covered their car roofs with vinyl. (Boy was that a bitch to clean when I used to wax cars..)

  8. pointsnfigures

    that’s really cool.

  9. Twain Twain

    Ok, so my guess for the machine algorithm is:(1.) Brownian motion for underwater bubbles that also look like illuminated air molecules.(2.) 5 vector layers: base background; rocks; foliage; seaweed creature; overlay for shadows, hues & opacity which changes if it’s day or night, triggered by…(3.) Time loop. Setting could be as fast as 0.01s.(4.) Genetic algorithm for the “seaweed creature”. There may be a density index in there such that when a certain part of the “seaweed creature” falls within some RGB range and is dense, it triggers either an explosion to dissipate the creature or…(5.) It to move according to a weather algorithm similar to how we track cloud formations.

  10. Twain Twain

    And soon… the bots will be our source for aphorisms, quotes and inspiration too.Hey who needs Confucius, Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Lovelace, Austen, Einstein, Gandhi, Hemingway, Picasso, Ali, Jobs and millions of our great human thinkers?!!!When the bots can do “Deep” Learning, match a picture with some words and pretend to be as deep and intelligent as a bit of spit!*…@wmoug:disqus — The MVP for true Machine Intelligence would require us to rewrite the rules ever since language and communication between humans was first documented.In much the same way, Blockchain rewrites the rules from ever since commerce started and how people recorded those transactions.So Satoshi is not only a genius, he’s a heretic and a time traveler. He’s jumped the centuries to make his invention.

  11. LE

    why we don’t yet have a new generation of CG, AI, data driven art.For one thing it would be a distraction. [1] So maybe in the bathroom that would be nice. Or when you are waiting in line or on the subway etc.I stood and watched the above art when I was in line at Starbucks this morning for example.[1] At least for things similar to what Fred linked to. For what you are suggesting less so but still would cause you to constantly check the art and I don’t know if that would be good or bad actually.