Ah, the Instagram algorithm. How does it work? We just don't know. No matter how many followers you have, sometimes the likes don't appear. And that strange feeling of online rejection was what motivated Melbourne artist and coder Sam Hains to create Zero Likes, an AI trained to respond only to those lost and lonely images that miss out on attention.
Hains describes the project as "a meditation on the aesthetics of nothingness." He trained an AI to respond to more than 100, 000 Instagram posts that received zero likes, as part of an ongoing series "investigating the potential for machines to respond to abstract, human questions". He then trained another AI to respond to the images generated by the first. The result is glitchy, unsettling artwork accompanied by disconcertingly straightforward, automated captions.
"The inspiration came about as a friend of mine posted a photo on Instagram that received no likes at all, and for someone with a relatively popular Instagram I thought this was fascinating," he explains to Creators. "What was it about this post that provoked no emotional response?"
If you're active on Instagram, you'd know that instances like these are extremely rare. Even if your online friends forsake you, there's every chance a bot will like your post—and probably add a weird comment or two. "As an active Instagram user it is hard to avoid a sincere or ironic or sympathetic 'like', which makes these images even more precious to me—they feel like the negative space of the internet," Hains explains.
Predictably, many of the images come from older Instagram users with limited follower counts. "I'm interested in the kinds of images that these people create too! They are outsider profiles, feeling their way through an unfamiliar system," says Hains.