Intelligent flies?

Antonio Cerveira PintoAyN

David Bowen. Fly revolver

Artificial Intelligence Art is not about form, nor about content. It is about man-machine cooperation within the art field, in the sense that logical machines and robots are only capable of data recognition, probabilistic calculus, and physical operations, as long as they are designed and controlled by humans. They need human delivered energy, as they need constant human assistance and imagination. There is no artificial autonomous art because art, by definition, is derived from creativity and subjectivity.

The growing interaction of physical and logical machines with humans has been deeply reflected in postmodern societies for the last fifty years. This new zeitgeist is nevertheless a temporary one. What I call Knowledge-Intensive Based Art is a different and broader definition than science-technology art, as it opens art horizons to unexpected issues like, for instance, dark ecology, post-colonial discussions, or the new gender issues that are deeply entering the art conversation of today. Art is not about content, nor about technology.

In David Bowen’s intelligent-machine art, machine learning and environment are obvious motivations. But what made me write this brief introductory note is the irony of Fly Revolver, flyAI, flyTweet and Cloud Piano, as well as the uncanny valley that these artworks carve around us, beyond the decaying fascination with techno utopia.

António Cerveira Pinto

fly revolver

Based on the activities of a collection of houseflies, this device controls a revolver. The flies live inside an acrylic sphere with a target backdrop. As the flies move and interact inside their home they fly in front of and land on the target. These movements are collected via video. The movements are processed with custom software and output to a robotic device that aims the revolver in real-time based on the flies’ relative location on the target. When a single fly is detected the revolver simply follows the movement of that fly. If several flies are in the field of view the software moves the revolver based on the activities of the collective. If a fly is detected in the center of the target the trigger of the revolver is pulled. In this way, the flies are essentially the brain of the device controlling the revolver by determining where it is aimed and when it is fired. [From David Bowen website]


This installation creates a situation where the fate of a colony of living houseflies is determined by the accuracy of artificial intelligence software. The installation uses the TensorFlow machine learning image recognition library to classify images of live houseflies. As the flies fly and land in front of a camera, their image is captured. The captured image is classified by the image recognition software and a list of guessed items is ranked 1 through 5. Each of the items is assigned a percentage based on how likely the software thinks that the listed item is what it sees. If “fly” is ranked number 1 on the list, a pump delivers water and nutrients to the colony based on the percentage of the ranking. If “fly” is not ranked number 1 the pump does not deliver water and nutrients to the colony. The system is setup to run indefinitely with an indeterminate outcome. [From David Bowen website]

fly tweet

This device sends twitter messages based on the activities of a collection of houseflies. The flies live inside an acrylic sphere along with a computer keyboard. As the flies move and interact inside their home, they fly over the keys on the keyboard. These movements are collected in real-time via video. When a particular key is triggered by the flies, the key’s corresponding character is entered into a twitter text box. When 140 characters are reached or the flies trigger the “enter” key, the message containing the accumulated characters is tweeted. Thus live twitter messages are perpetually sent in real-time based on the simple movements of the community of houseflies. These constantly accumulating messages appear as records of random activity within the larger sphere of social media and networking. [From David Bowen website]

Twitter/ fly colony

David Bowen. Cloud Piano

Cloud Piano

this installation plays the keys of a piano based on the movements and shapes of the clouds. A camera pointed at the sky captures video of the clouds. Custom software uses the video of the clouds in real-time to articulate a robotic device that presses the corresponding keys on the piano. The system is set in motion to function as if the clouds are pressing the keys on the piano as they move across the sky and change shape. The resulting sound is generated from the unique key patterns created by ethereal forms that build, sweep, fluctuate and dissipate in the sky. [From David Bowen website]

David Bowen