The Perception Machine : Our Photographic Future between the Eye and AI

Joanna Zylinska’s book, The Perception Machine (2023), explores how artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming photography and how we perceive the world. She mixes ideas from media studies, brain science, and even her own art projects to show how photos are becoming more complex due to algorithms and „machine vision“ (computers „seeing“).The book talks about the „perceptual machine,“ which represents both the good and bad sides of AI vision. Zylinska is worried about a future where machines see everything, but she also thinks AI vision could be used for positive things in society and art.Instead of just warning us, Zylinska wants people to work together. She invites designers, artists, and thinkers to talk about and experiment with the „perceptual machine,“ maybe even „hack“ it to find its hidden potential. This teamwork, she believes, could help us understand the ethical and social issues of a future where AI shapes how we see the world.

Book cover „The Perception Machine“

Source: ZYLINSKA, J. The perception machine

In her publication The Perception Machine: Our Photographic Future between the Eye and AI (Zylinska, 2023), Joanna Zylinska presents a provocative exploration of the future of photography and human perception in the age of AI. She analyzes the transformation of human perception through algorithmically driven images from CGI to AI – The Perception Machine. She argues by combining media theory and neuroscience in a remix of Vilém Flusser – Paul Virilio. This publication also includes Zylinska’s own artistic projects, which can be responsibly understood in the „infra-thin“ vein. This means that artistic research in this case is a controlled game between difference and identification, whose epistemological value comes from the qualities of research operations (Judovitz, 1995).

The Multisensory Medium of Photography

At the heart of the matter is the fact that the medium of photography has been significantly transformed in the moment of contact with other media technologies, making photography a multisensory medium whose potential lies in the computational evaluation of sensory and optical operations. One of the central questions is also what it means to live surrounded by image flows and machine eyes. However, Zylinska also points to the shortcomings in the form of the so-called systemic glitch.

The Perceptual Machine as a Metaphor

The postulate of the „perceptual machine“ represents a metaphor for both visual and cognitive closure, as well as for socio-political and affective openness. Such a postulate can also be understood as an analytical gesture of ethical injunction that is developed not only by humans towards each other, but also by non-human beings – including planet Earth. Zylinska seeks analogies in Zuckerberg’s metaverse, which came to market with the promise of being a universal perceptual machine, in which we should be able to have business meetings, go on vacation without thinking about old-fashioned Cartesian dualism. Highlighting the relationships that point to apocalyptic scenarios of our future in the era of the emerging metaverse is a hit on the head.

Example of the work Planetary Exhalation, 2021 by J. Zylinska as an implementation of the study of planetarity and related disciplines such as art history, ethnography, geography, urban studies, and architecture

Source: ZYLINSKA, J. The perception machine

Invitation to Share Conversation and Practice

More important than the warning against the perceptual machine, I see Zylinska’s invitation to share conversation and practice, aimed at designers, programmers, artists, writers, thinkers, activists, to experiment, tune or hack the perceptual machine, as long as it is still possible. I understand the recommendation as an offer for research that is open to all methods and syncretisms in the metaverse that want to be involved in uncovering the infra-potential of the perceptual machine.

Author: Tomáš Marušiak, 2024


1.            ZYLINSKA, Joanna. The perception machine. . London, England : MIT Press, 2023. ISBN 9780262546836.

2.            JUDOVITZ, Dalia. Unpacking Duchamp. . Berkeley, CA : University of California Press, 1995. ISBN 9780520088092.