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This Camera App Deletes Humans

Bye Bye Camera questions the meaning of humanity from a machine’s perspective.

by Mack DeGeurin
27 June 2019, 7:15am

Image: Mack DeGeurin

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Somewhere on the internet, humans are disappearing. Coffee shop regulars, dive bar locals and everyday dog walkers are all being deleted with only their shadow leaving any trace of their former existence.

The mass deletion is happening on an app called Bye Bye Camera. It was created by internet artist Damjanski and it attempts to conceptualize what a human looks like in the eyes of a machine. It also lets people remove humans from photos in fun and often bizarre ways.

To delete a human, a user needs to download the app then find a setting with one or multiple people. Once the user points the camera at the scene and taps their screen, a spinning loading wheel appears alongside the text, “Please wait, detecting humans.” Seconds later, the human (or humans) vanish. After every deletion, a counter in the bottom right corner of the screen ticks up, supposedly to show the number of people who've been deleted from photos using the app, overall.

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Image: Mack DeGeurin
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Image: Mack DeGeurin

Damjanski told Motherboard the app is the culmination of three months of work and over a year spent pondering what it means to be a human in a world increasingly lived online.

“One of the interesting things to think about is: What is a human from the perspective of this program?” Damjanksi told Motherboard. “Maybe it’s just a collection of pixels.”

Damjanski said the app uses an object detection system called Yolo to detect and delete humans, and uses a neural network to repaint the background. The result is an often surrealist image that looks like a glitch in a video game.

While the app worked most of the time, for me, the servers occasionally timed out and froze, and other times the neural network seemed unable to distinguish humans from other animals. When I attempted to delete myself from a photo of myself walking my dog at night, the app did the opposite, and disappointingly kept me, but deleted my dog instead.

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Image: Mack DeGeurin
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Image: Mack DeGeurin

On a second scroll through my photo album though, I found another image, this time with my dog still there and my body transformed into a wavy pixelated mesh.

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Image: Mack DeGeurin

Currently, the app won't work without an internet connection. Damjanski said he hopes to eventually create a version that lets users delete people offline.

This is not the first time Damjanski has used art to try and explore the world from a machine’s perspective. Last year, in his project “Humans Not Invited,” the artist created a CAPTCHA test that, rather than scan for bots, filtered out humans.

“Algorithms are black box approaches—you can see what goes in there and you can see what comes out but you don’t know what’s going on inside," Damjanski said. The artist said this interest in the black box mystery helped inspire both Humans Not Invited and Bye Bye Camera.

Like Humans Not Invited before, Damjanski encourages people to try and “break” his system. For Humans Not Invited, Damjanki saved the IP addresses of every program that managed to sneak past the CAPTCHA and gain entry. Similarly, in the new app, Damjanksi says he’s encouraged when early users tried to stretch the limits of the human recognition system.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.