laser cut tablet of neural network generated cuneiform

laser cut tablet of neural network generated cuneiform

glossolalia setup.png


glossolalia / speaking in tongues


Are neural networks our new gods?


My installation piece aims to create a techno-spiritual experience with a neural network trained on ancient cuneiform writing for an exhibition audience in an art context. 


The title 'glossolalia / speaking in tongues' of the piece refers to a phenomenon where people seem to speak in a language unknown to them - mostly in a spiritual context. In the art piece both "speaker" (machine) and "recipient" are unaware of the language of their communication: The unconscious machine is constantly dreaming up new pieces of cuneiform tablets that the audience cannot translate. Two things to mention: First, after 3000 years, one of the oldest forms of human writing (means encoding of thoughts) becomes "alive" again with the help of a neural network. Second, it is difficult to evaluate how accurate the new cuneiform is - only a few scholars can fully decode and translate cuneiform today. 

original cuneiform tablet ( wikimedia )

original cuneiform tablet (wikimedia)

part of original Sumerian cuneiform tablet (paper impression)

part of original Sumerian cuneiform tablet (paper impression)

cuneiform generated by neural network

cuneiform generated by neural network

Observing the machine creating these formerly human artifacts in its "deep dream" is in itself a spiritual experience: It is in a way a time-machine. By picking up on the thoughts of the existing, cuneiform writing corpus, the machine breathes new life into culture at Sumerian times. The moment the machine finished training on about 20 000 tablets (paper impressions) and dreamed up its first new tablet, the past 2000 - 3000 year hiatus became irrelevant - for the neural network old Babylon is the only world that exists. 

In the installation piece, the audience get the opportunity to observe the neural network the moment they kneel down on a small bench and look at the top of an acrylic pyramid. This activates the transmission of generated images from the network in the cloud to the audience that hover as an extruded hologram over the pyramid.

cunei_bstract [Recovered].png
side, above: digital abstractions of generated cuneiform

side, above: digital abstractions of generated cuneiform

The audience can pick up headphones with ambient sounds that intensify the experience (optional).

It is important to mention that the network is not activated by the audience: The audience gets the opportunity to observe its constant and ongoing dream. The network is not a slave of the audience, it is regarded as a form of new entity in itself. When an audience member gets up from the bench, the transmission stops - the spiritual moment is over.



-- "H" for "have", "G" for "get" --

PCOMP parts:

  • raspberry pi or nvidia jetson tx2 -- G
  • if raspberry pi: phat DAC for audio out -- G
  • 8266 wifi module -- G
  • 2 x buttons / switches -- H
  • headphones -- G
  • audio cables -- G
  • screen -- G
  • hdmi cable -- H
  • local wifi-network (phone) -- H

ICM parts: 

  • GPU cloud server trained on 20 000 cuneiform tablets (scientific drawings, monochrome) -- H
  • processing sketch -- H

Fabrication parts:

  • wood for kneeling bench -- G
  • wood for column -- G
  • acrylic for pyramid -- H
  • wooden stick for headphone holder -- G

system diagram




  • Tue. 7 Nov. 2017: playtesting with paper prototype / user feedback

work on server-local comm, processing sketch, order/buy fab parts

  • Tue. 14 Nov. 2017: server-local comm works, all fabrication parts received

work on input-local comm, processing sketch, fabrication (peppers ghost)

  • Tue. 21 Nov. 2017: processing sketch finished, input-local comm works

work on automation, fabrication (bench, column)

  • Tue. 28 Nov. 2017: all comms work, basic fabrication finished

work on fabrication finish, code cleaning, documentation, 

  • Tue. 5 Dec. 2017: final presentation