Tech and Tattoos
The evolution of Artificial Intelligence — AI — from something menacingly coming at us in various shapes and sizes from distant futures in sci-fi movies, to something that is a major part of our everyday life has been swift. Assisting, chartering, calculating and developing, it is hard to imagine life today without machines and algorithms. As with any technological revolution before it, the rise of AI has given birth to a bunch of questions and concerns.
Some of these are wondering if algorithms have become so sophisticated that they are subtly controlling what information we have access to, receive, and even how we feel about it (going so far as to indirectly controlling our voting in elections). The nightmare scenario most often projected is that the machines will develop self-awareness, realise that they do not need humans to complete their given tasks and, Matrix-style, proceed to enslave and/or exterminate us.
While this might feel as if it is far away in some distant future (although the Terminator is sent back only 9 years from now…) what can feel more pressing and could be affecting a large number of people is the fear that machines will take over jobs. Which, to a large extent, is already happening. ATMs instead of bank tellers, automated check-out lines in the supermarket, assembly lines for car manufacturing, voice recognition customer services… Driverless cars may have been delayed, but it is only a question of time and working out some kinks (and trust-issues) before they become the norm. You would think that the arts would remain exclusive to humanity though, right?
Just last year Samsung unveiled a commercial, envisioning a woman designing her own tattoo, and then having a robotic arm ink it on her skin on the spot. In 2016, the design studio Appropriate Audiences released a video of an industrial robot creating a tattoo on an actual human leg. Granted, the design of the tattoo was not very complex, and the abundance of ink flowing everywhere made for quite a messy picture, but it means that at least someone has already had the idea — and put it to action. The tattooing robot’s programmers admits that the hardest part was to get the robot to adapt to the uneven surfaces of the body. A tattoo artist — human that is, has intimate knowledge of skin, its how it needs to be stretched in certain ways, and the specific requirements for imagery on each body part. It feels incredible to imagine that anyone would prefer a mechanical robot to real live human interaction when having their skin inked, however stranger things have happened…
But there are also ways in which AI can benefit the tattoo industry. The tech department at the Tattoodo community have trained an ANN — Automated Neural Network — how to recognise and classify different tattoo styles (such as water colour, tribal, new school, traditional etc) and motives (skulls, flowers, fauna, carp, etc), something that comes in handy for the sites over 365k uploaded photos of tattoo art. It can also suggest different hashtags for the images during the upload and edit process. This will allow users to receive more personalised feeds according to their interests, as opposed to relying on arbitrary classification, enhancing community experiences.
And — there are ways in which AI and tattooing can work together to benefit humanity. Scientists at Harvard and MIT declared two years ago that they have developed a new form of smart tattoo. In contrast to other wearable health trackers such as Fitbits or Apple watches, it is not merely a single attached sensor, depending on battery and other devices to record readings. Rather, it places the health sensors directly onto the skin. The ink in the tattoos react to the chemical composition in the fluid just beneath the skin. For example, it can turn a brighter green for dehydration, of particular interest to athletes, or, for diabetics, a deeper shade of brown for increased glucose levels. The project is called ‘Dermal Abyss.’