Trevor Paglen follows, voicing his suspicion that Steyerl invited him on the panel to discuss his current project on “machine vision.” As the project is in-process, Paglen politely dodges the subject, though does parse some of the essential differences between humans and machines. To put it bluntly, one of these things is made of meat and not the other.
Of course, there are other differences; for one, Paglen notes that the images humans make “seem to point to something out there in the world,” which we call “representation.” These images are never without frames, requiring us to consider the ways “representation has been hijacked” in the service of power.
Paglen moves onto “seeing machines,” crediting Harun Farocki with identifying “operational images,” integrated into machinic systems, decades before their ubiquitous presence in our lives (read Paglen discussing this topic at length in e-flux journal #59). “The majority of images in the world are made by machines, for machines," he remarks. “What does this mean for visual culture,” when human eyes have become the exception to the rule?
Obviously, Paglen is not the first to raise these topics, but with the intensification of machinic perception, they become all the more urgent. For a significant precedent, consider James Bridle’s writing on The New Aesthetic: “Each image is a link, hardcoded or imaginative, to other aspects of a far greater system, just as every web page and every essay, and every line of text written or quoted therein, is a link to other words, thoughts and ideas. Again, in this the New Aesthetic reproduces the structure and disposition of the network itself, as a form of critique.”