An ‘Autonomous Trap’: The limits of technology, illustrated

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Updated May 11, 2021

Today, a fairly cheeky expression of the limits of technology in the face of the human mind and its proclivities for art, invention and persistence. British artist James Bridle used salt to draw a trap in a pullout on the roads leading up to home of the mythological muses in Greece, Mount Parnassus. Poking a little fun at the machine-vision techs that help control movement in autonomous techs in development — Bridle has worked on his own version of open-source software code for one, more of a DIY approach — Bridle’s trap is a solid white line, drawn in a car-sized circle, with a dotted white line drawn concentrically around it. Simple? I’d say so.

Vice magazine interviewed the artist at this link recently. As the writer had it: “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” — or a good illustration of the hopes and desires of a great many truckers I know, as goes the future of such vehicles.

The artist noted in the Vice story that this piece and the body of work it’s part of comes “in preparation for a solo exhibition which opens next month in Berlin, at Nome Gallery,” Bridle told Vice. The exhibition’s working title you’ll recognize: Failing to Distinguish Between a Tractor Trailer and the Bright White Sky, a reference to part of the cause of the fatal accident in Florida in which Tesla’s Autopilot function was engaged in a car that went under a 53-foot dry van.

“I’ll be showing a bunch of different outcomes of the research, including interpretations of the machine vision systems I’ve been building,” Bridle told Vice, “and the results of the self-driving car training—and hopefully connecting them to some of my more mythological interests.

I have a friend in Greece, where Bridle lives today. When I forwarded this video her way, asking if she perhaps knew the artist, she said she did, and asked, “Want me to ask him if it works on trucks as well?”

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Why yes, yes I do … Will let you know if I hear back.