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Technology is unearthing hidden art in the Tate’s collection

People will get the chance to see rarely-viewed art from the Tate’s collection in a new exhibition that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to match historic paintings with modern photos.

The display at Tate Britain will use cutting-edge technology to study the latest pictures from global news agency Reuters and compare them with one of 50,000 pieces in the gallery’s archives based on their colours and themes.

The creators of Recognition, which will run 24 hours a day online as well as in the Tate, hope the digital project will not only unearth some pieces of art that people rarely see, but also create a virtual gallery of its own.


Recognition matched the 1926 painting Morning with a picture of a woman sheltering from the sun

“The Tate archive is very difficult to explore, and this makes it easy,” said Isaac Joseph Vellentin, 22, one of the creators of Recognition. “In our digital age, there is so much content. We are juxtaposing these images to get more out of them. We are taking two things that are close but far apart in their time frame. But we are also looking at human life. It’s more what people take away for themselves.”

Vellentin has worked on Recognition since June with three colleagues at Fabrica, a communication research centre in Trevio, Italy – Coralie Gourguechon, Monica Lanaro and Angelo Semeraro. Recognition was chosen from more than 200 entrants to win the Tate’s IK Prize for 2016, which tasked entrants with creating a project using AI to “explore, investigate or ‘understand’ British art from the Tate collection in a new way”.

Fabrica enlisted the help of Microsoft and web developers Jolibrain to build the installation, which uses algorithms and machine learning to compare composition, style and subject matter.

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Recognition matched the 1660 painting Two Ladies of the Lake Family with a festival in Mumbai

“The number of items in the Tate is huge, so comparing the visual culture that belongs to our past with contemporary visual culture makes people think,” said Lanaro. “There’s so much to discover. We really hope this can help people be surprised about things not in Tate’s permanent collection.”

As well as providing support to Recognition’s creators, Microsoft sponsored the prize. Eric Horvitz, Technical Fellow and Director of Microsoft Research Lab at Redmond and a judge of the IK Prize, said the company’s partnership with the Tate “is rooted in the belief that technology can make a profound difference in our lives and allow everyone to experience and achieve more”.

Speaking at the unveiling of the interactive part of Recognition at the Tate, Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft UK, said Fabrica’s entry shows how humans and technology can work together to “make the invisible, visible”.

“This is an opportunity for us to use this technology to do amazing things,” he said. “AI will change how we collaborate and fundamentally change our lives for the better. Unlike today’s computers, which we program and give specific, explicit instructions, algorithms and artificial intelligence are trained. They learn their behaviour against a specific set of criteria. We have trained these algorithms to understand what facial recognition looks like, what smiling looks like, what sadness may look like, based on a whole series of images. As such, these algorithms and the artificial intelligence, are a reflection of society and who we are as human beings.

“We want to get to a world where we can use technology to lift the capabilities of every human being on the planet. We can use the incredible power of this technology of artificial intelligence to extend our reach as human beings.”

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Recognition matched the 1893-4 painting August Blue with swimmers in France

Recognition, which will run for three months, is the third winner of the annual IK Tate Prize. The 2014 winner, After Dark, saw robots roaming the Tate’s galleries at night, controlled and watched by thousands of people across the world.

Kerstin Mogull, Managing Director at the Tate, said: “The IK Prize celebrates creative talent in the digital industry by supporting innovative projects at the intersection of design, technology and art. By partnering with Microsoft on this year’s competition we are able to explore this new and developing field; I’m excited to see what artificial intelligence can bring to our audience’s understanding and enjoyment of the collection.”

After Dark, the 2014 IK Tate Prize winner