Arts, Technology and Culture Lecture: Mike Tyka with Josette Melchor: “Deep Dreams: Between Inspiration and Hallucination”

Lecture | November 28 | 6:30-8 p.m. | Sutardja Dai Hall, Banatao Auditorium

 Mike Tyka, Google; Josette Melchor, Executive Director and Founder, Gray Area Foundation For The Arts

 Center for New Media , Townshend/Lamarre Family Foundation, Office of the Executive VC and Provost

When Deep Dream was released in 2015, the Google program became an overnight sensation, garnering coverage from magazines such as Wired, the Atlantic, and Scientific American. Ordinary photos processed through the algorithm transformed into LSD-reminiscent hallucinations: clouds writhed with dogs, palms filled with eyes.

The program is an artificial neural network aimed at generating new images. The software is trained with natural images from the environment to distinguish objects and parse them into high level features. At Google, their usual application is image classification and object recognition.

The Deep Dream Google engineers wanted to test the extent to which a neural network had learned to recognize such features by asking the computer to describe what it saw. So they fed their program images and asked it to enhance the components it recognized. If a particular neuron tended to tag images as frogs, frogs would proliferate in the modified picture. In this way, the network was manipulated to produce new imagery, essentially “imagining” the images based on learned rules and associations.

The Google team recognized the artistic potential of Deep Dream and released the algorithm for anyone to download. In the next few days, the program went viral. Six months later, Gray Area hosted the first artificial neural network art exhibition.

Tonight, Google engineer and artist Mike Tyka discusses with Gray Area founder Josette Melchor the creative possibilities afford by by neural networks and the impact of the Deep Dream project.


Berkeley’s Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium is an internationally recognized forum for presenting new ideas that challenge conventional wisdom about art, technology, and culture. This series, free of charge and open to the public, presents artists, writers, curators, and scholars who consider contemporary issues at the intersection of aesthetic expression, emerging technologies, and cultural history, from a critical perspective.

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