The Nth Wave

2020

A multichannel video installation in which "waves" of fake, AI-generated tide pool images wash over real ones across multiple screens and connected devices. Viewers can join the wave by QR code or browsing to https://nth-wave.net.

Tide pools exist in two environments, land and water, much how we exist in the real and virtual. It’s theorised they are where life emerged from the sea to evolve into the complex variety of species we see today. The Generative Adversarial Network that created the images in The Nth Wave followed an “evolutionary” process of its own. Exposed to a large number of photographs taken at the seaside, one part of the GAN created new images while another part attempted to discriminate the real from the fake: a sort of silicon survival of the fittest. It also used a lot of energy to compute them. Similarly, the power consumed to generate  “deep fakes”, bots, virtual assistants, and VR experiences creating our collective techno-illusion threatens to not only compete with the natural world for our attention and our concept of “truth” but to literally destroy it.

Convincing synthetic realities are easy to create with just a laptop and some images, and at a time when the old markers of truth and evidence are being devalued in favour of collective and tribal “certainty” of the way the world is. Our alternative facts are now trivial to produce, and they wash over us repeatedly, each time reinforcing their impact on what we believe.

The fake images were generated using StyleGan2 from 900 real images of tide pools I took at Scottish beaches: Seacliff Beach, Applecross, Big Sand and the Isle of Harris. 

I'm so honoured that The Nth Wave has been shortlisted for the 2021 Lumen Prize.