• Report: A hybrid hack on synthetic matter. 

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    Posted: 9 December 2020

    During an online ‘art hack’ organized by Baltan Laboratories and Thoughtworks Arts, participants collaborated to develop projects in the field of synthetic media creation. People from different backgrounds who never met before, were invited to share their skills, knowledge and experiences. Within a compressed timeframe of two weeks, three teams developed ideas, guided by Ellen Pearlman and Julien Deswaef, facilitated by Leif Czakai. The results were showcased online after an intense period of remote collaboration.

    Three synthetic media projects

    The first team tried to map their faces and voices in a reconstructed video advertisement. It turned out to be a complicated process to accurately match their faces on actors. Within the project, questions were raised about the implications of this technology. For example, to what extend can the advertisement industry and the people behind this software, be held accountable for the potential negative implications of this technology, in which the real and the synthetic coalesce?

    The second team re-constructed and visualised the notion of ‘information bubbles’, commonly known as echo chambers, a phenomenon in which algorithms preselect information in our social media feed, without the user being aware. In their project, they made a comparison between different infospheres, which were depicted as transparent domes. Their aim was to learn how information from fictional personas can be compiled and to find out what these compiled structures actually tell us.

    The third team started with comparing the mechanism underpinning smart and social technology by depicting a speculative story concerning computer- and animal intelligence. Their interactive installation was tested and presented in the Baltan space. The work tried to give answers to the question: What is the difference between a smart horse trying to read someone’s mind and a computer trying to do the same thing? Does this mean that computers will magically be able to outsmart us on all levels?


    Within a short amount of time a lot of effort was put into the process of creation. The focus for many of the teams was to gain a better understanding of what could be developed on a bigger scale. By diving into deep fakes and synthetic media creation, meaningful and confronting questions were discussed. What are the consequences of a society in which we see what technology ‘thinks’ we want to see? What does it mean when the real and the synthetic are no longer indistinguishable for the human eye? We’d better be prepared for a reality which is highly ambiguous, mediated and manifold. Demystifying the mechanisms behind these digital tools may help us finding answers. Answers that may not be found in the technology itself but our way of dealing with it, in the future. Baltan would like to thank everyone involved for sharing their creativity and inspiration with us!

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