Developing Intelligence

Phil Stearns has constructed a 45 “neuron” network of electronic parts which responds to lights and tones with a (rather cute) squealing sound. A picture of the components for this strange device:


Each “neuron” consisted of analog electronics corresponding to each of 6 functions: Input, Summing, Threshold, “Offset,” “Output,” and “Structure” (not sure about those latter three). The connectivity was determined by hand.

Phil states that the sculpture is not intelligent, but rather “some kind of squid baby.”

Neural networks have great potential for contributing to the arts. For example, JP Thivierge used results from the cascade correlation learning algorithm to visualize random output values from a neural network:


Here’s some art from a portion of rat brain placed into a petri dish:

Hybrot Art

And, of course, there’s Jonathan McCabe‘s fantastic network art:

Hybrot Art

Jon McCabe’s process is perhaps the most interesting. The color of each pixel corresponds to the behavior of the network at a particular combination of two parameters, indicate by the X and Y coordinates of that pixel. (I get the feeling there is substantial artistic license taken with the results – for example, one interview indicates that each network generates up to 6000 images, and the best are selected by McCabe himself).

Update: jrandom from reddit has also done something similar, by randomly weighting all connections in a three-layer feedforward network with two inputs (x, y coordinates in these pictures) and three outputs (r, g, and b values for each pixel). Here’s an example of the result:

Hybrot Art

It sounds like none of these networks were trained to produce good art – but they seem to have some “natural” talent regardless!


  1. #1 Anon
    January 31, 2008

    Actually, it appears that the picture you posted is not of the device, but of the pieces which were put together to form the device. At your link there are a couple of pics of the constructed creature (the one with it hanging in front of a light source makes it look a bit squid-baby like, actually!).

  2. #2 HRS
    January 31, 2008

    Anatomically accurate knitted and quilted brains:
    The disclaimer is the best part: “While our artists make every effort to insure accuracy, we cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of using fabric brain art as a guide for functional magnetic resonance imaging, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, neurosurgery, or single-neuron recording.”

  3. #3 Christophe
    February 2, 2008

    Very nice! In a similar fashion, I remember using GeneticArc some time ago — with some heavy training, it could produce pictures thay might qualify as “art”. I don’t have the url at hand, but it should be rather easy to find with google.

  4. #4 Kyle McDonald
    February 3, 2008

    As an undergrad I experimented with some similar ideas, using the networks as attractors that learned to follow the various parameters output by a Wacom tablet (position, orientation, pressure):

  5. #5 JimFiore
    February 4, 2008

    Yowzer, that’s not a pretty circuit.

    About 10 years ago I designed an op-amp based analog neural network card with my friend and colleague Dr. John Gallagher (at the time, of SUNY Institute of Technology outside Utica, currently at Wright State in Ohio). Actually, John gave me the specs and I designed and built the unit. Each card was one neuron and there was a card cage that fit eight cards as I recall. It was much, much cleaner than the unit shown above. I mean, printed circuits aren’t that hard to make. The unit above looks like the guts of a 1950’s tube amplifier without the tubes. 45 neurons is pretty cool though.

    I also recall doing a SPICE simulation of a three neuron connection during prototyping. The simulation was pretty slow (of course, it was actually a simulation of a simulator, so…). John had plans on altering my manual controls (replacing the potentiometers with digital pots)and ultimately creating an IC for the neuron. He went off to Wright State before that could be realized. I don’t know if he’s still pursuing it or not. He’s published considerable material over the past dozen years on analog neural networks.

  6. #6 Phil Stearns
    February 4, 2008

    The image for this post may be a bit misleading. It’s not of the final piece but of the completed individual neurons before they were assembled into the final sculpture. The final install image is here:

    I’ll be showing this piece again in LA (Week of Feb 17th and Minneapolis (Feb 26 – March 2 Hopefully I’ll have some better photo and video documentation. I plan on posting a more technical report on this project in the coming weeks.

  7. #7 zouze
    February 17, 2008

    the pictures produce the the NN’s are spectacular. this is a unique experiment…how about converting the output to sound waves? has anyone tried it before?

  8. #8 Phil Stearns
    December 26, 2008

    I just completed an exhibition at the Torrance Art Museum in Los Angeles. Though this post is most certainly history in terms of internet time, I thought it might be helpful to post some photos of AANN from the exhibition space. BTW the design of the circuit takes into consideration extra dynamics not accounted for in typical ANN models. The point was also not necessarily to design a tool for running calculations, but to create a sculptural piece which gave a physical form to an otherwise abstract realm of science. Had the goal been to create a network for the usual application, to serve as a trainable pattern recognition device, the design would have probably been carried out using conventional methods and embodied either in a chip or in some several lines of code. Despite the solid scientific and mathematic foundations of current ANN technologies, I feel that there are severe limitations with the models currently in use; stemming from our desire to prove our level of understanding by exerting complete control over a system rather than to properly recreate and observe how a system can function with some degree of independence from our desires.


  9. #9 SharkTime
    July 10, 2009

    I like last image, interesting is RGB output – cool idea.
    I wrote software for producing pictures (or even movies) like that one. The output is not RGB, but class number (color).

    Sharky Neural Network
    Neural network classification results live view

    @Christophe, did you meaned Genetic Arm? See:

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