The Creators Project has an absolutely fascinating interview with James Bridle, whose current project involves the magical science of fucking up autonomous cars. While this is a fun and intriguing project, Bridle brings up a very good point about just how easy it would be to interfere with those wondrous self-driving cars. Pictured above is a salt trap, blending the legendary magic of yore with modern road/driving signals.
Is it a silly prank, a Pagan ritual, or a genius discovery about the next era of mass transit? In a picture posted to Flickr by artist James Bridle—known for coining the term, “New Aesthetic”—a car is sitting in the middle of a parking lot has been surrounded by a magic salt circle. In the language of road markings, the dotted white lines on the outside say, “Come On In,” but the solid white line on the inside says, “Do Not Cross.” To the car’s built-in cameras, these are indomitable laws of magic: Petrificus Totalus for autonomous automobiles.
Captioned simply, “Autonomous Trap 001,” the scene evokes a world of narratives involving the much-hyped technology of self-driving cars. It could be mischievous hackers disrupting a friend’s self-driving ride home; the police seizing a dissident’s getaway vehicle; highway robbers trapping their prey; witches exorcizing a demon from their hatchback.
Self-driving cars aren’t there yet, but the artist-philosopher-programmer’s thought-provoking photo is a reminder that we’ll have to start thinking about these things soon. If a self-driving car is designed to read the road, what happens when the language of the road is abused by those with nefarious intent?
Now Bridle is trying to build his own self-driving car, and made the sardonic artwork Autonomous Trap 001 in the process. He’s released all the code developed in pursuit of the DIY self-driving car here. We spoke to Bridle to learn more about the circumstances behind this vague photo series and better understand his apprehension and curiosity about the robot chauffeurs of the future.
Creators: What are we looking at here? Can you give me a brief explanation of Autonomous Trap 001?
James Bridle: What you’re looking at is a salt circle, a traditional form of protection—from within or without—in magical practice. In this case it’s being used to arrest an autonomous vehicle—a self-driving car, which relies on machine vision and processing to guide it. By quickly deploying the expected form of road markings—in this case, a No Entry glyph—we can confuse the car’s vision system into believing it’s surrounded by no entry points, and entrap it.
Is this actually an autonomous car, or is it conceptual?
I don’t actually have a self-driving car, unfortunately—I don’t think any have made it to Greece yet, plus the cost issue—but I do have a pretty good understanding of how the things work, having been researching them for a while. And the one in the picture is a research vehicle for building my own. As usual, I’ve got totally carried away in the research, and ended up writing a bunch of my own software, rigging up cameras and building neural networks to reproduce some of the more interesting currents in the field. Like the trap, I wouldn’t entirely trust what I’ve built, but the principles are sound.
Where did you take these pictures?
I made this Trap while training the car on the roads around Mount Parnassus in Central Greece. Parnassus feels like an appropriate location because, as well as being quite spectacular scenery and wonderful to drive and hike around, it’s the home of the Muses in mythology, as well as the site of the Delphic Oracle. The ascent of Mount Parnassus is, in esoteric terms, the journey towards knowledge, and art.
There’s much more at The Creator’s Project!