AI Artist Spotlight: Kyle McDonald

Kyle McDonald is a leading media artist working with code. He creates visually appealing models using code and often shares his ideas with other artists. At the same time, McDonald is concerned about how new technologies impact society.

McDonald creates astonishing visually appealing models using machine learning and computer vision. He also designs websites and tool kits and is a contributor to openFrameworks, an open-source, intuitive tool that assists in the creative process. He frequently shares his ideas and models to help other artists better customise their own art. 

McDonald's work centres around the possibilities of new technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI), and how they affect society and can be used (and misused) to build alternative futures. His journey into AI and computer science started in high school when he explored simple language models for chatbots.

While pushing the boundaries of AI, including the increasingly popular text-to-image AI generator, McDonald advocated for the ethical use of data and information. Unlike most AI face analysis tools where data is collected nonconsensually, McDonald collects consensual data and says he won't take advantage of anyone for the sake of art, a similar notion to that of Trevor Paglen, another AI media artist who advocates for better AI practices.

McDonald frequently leads workshops exploring computer vision and interaction. He pursues creative exploration activities through interactive and immersive installation and is also working on an environmentally sensitive project aimed at offsetting the emissions from crypto-art platforms since they began.

McDonald is a member of the Free Art and Technology Lab (F.A.T. Lab), an adjunct professor at New York University Tisch School of the Arts Interactive Telecommunications Program, and an artist in residence at the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University.

Selected AI Projects

Sharing Faces

Sharing Faces was one of McDonald's earlier AI works in which he attempted to bring the intangible phenomenon of human connection to life using algorithms. Sharing Faces allowed people to see themselves in the faces of others.

The project included two video screens and cameras at galleries in both Japan and South Korea. The algorithm McDonald built matched the facial expression, gestures, and poses of the audience in real time with images of someone else who had once performed similar expressions in front of the installation. 

Sharing Faces was in real time, meaning as you changed your expression or gesture, the algorithm replaced the faces on the screen. Sharing Faces, in many ways, challenged the existing power dynamics of gender, size, colour, shape, and other categories used to label people.

Facework

McDonald launched Facework in 2020, built on a decade-long exploration of various  kinds of automated face analysis. The game imagines a world where face analysis is key to the latest gig economy app and challenges players to trick the algorithm into thinking that they look a certain way that they don't actually look.

Facework gives players an opportunity to investigate in real time how AI, computer vision, and machine learning tools work. The aim of Facework was to show players how a machine sees and to understand how machines can fail; some of McDonald’s views share a resemblance to No One Is an Island by fellow AI artist Wayne McGregor.

Social Soul

In 2014, McDonald designed Social Soul with Lauren McCarthy to answer the question of how it feels to be inside someone else's social media stream. He used fifty screens reflecting into infinity to create the feeling of being inside someone else’s data–the project provided an immersive digital experience of what data says about us.

McDonald built Social Soul with a custom algorithm that matched visiting participants, displaying their social stream, instead. Social Soul took visitors through an immersive trip of their connected "soulmates" on social media. After exiting, users and their designated soulmates received tweets encouraging offline conversation.

Social Soul showed people the extent to which their data can become an accurate self-portrait of their lives.

Opening Our Eyes

McDonald will continue to take us on an adventure exploring the possibilities new mediums offer art, while ensuring that the end products are not just tributes to technology. It is the artist’s responsibility to push the boundaries of social, personal and cultural norms while also keeping an eye on any ethical concerns that arise with the growing use of technology for classification and segregation.