The Most Interesting Curator on the Internet Knows Exactly What You Want to See
Archillect is uncanny. Here's why.
In the final weeks of 2014, a site called Archillect first appeared online. At first glance, Archillect doesn't look too out of the ordinary; it's a fairly standard "mood board"—that is, a collection of images curated from other places on the internet, usually by an artist looking to put together a source of aesthetic inspiration for themselves and others.
Archillect's brand of imagery consists of lots of abstract forms, fashion photography, and striking, surrealist GIFs. While nice to look at, it's not a huge departure from some of the better-curated mood boards that have existed on Tumblr for quite some time. Instead, the thing that makes Archillect unique is who's doing the curating.
No human is directly involved in deciding what gets posted on Archillect. Archillect herself is an artificial intelligence that curates her own content. Deploying a network of bots that crawl Tumblr, Flickr, 500px, and other image-heavy sites, Archillect hunts for keywords and metadata that she likes, and posts the most promising results.
Murat Pak, the creator of Archillect, has a difficult time defining what exactly he does for a living. Part developer, part designer, part artist, none of those terms on their own do a very good job of summarizing his work. Instead, he might be best described as an automator.
"I don't like to actually do things manually," Pak explains. "For instance, most of my designs, I didn't actually design something, but I designed something that designed some other thing, and the second thing was the actual product. That's how I like things."
Pak's methods of outsourcing his work are unique, and in Archillect, he's proven just how effective they can be. This ambitious creation all started off pretty inconspicuously, though. As with other, more conventionally-run mood boards, Pak simply wanted to find and provide inspiration
"It's a time-consuming thing if you're really trying to create your own collection, because you really have to dig to find beautiful things that are going to inspire you," Pak says. "So I was thinking, what if this whole digging and finding and posting thing was done by an artificial intelligence instead of a human, but was also driven by human behaviour in a way, so it's not random images, but it could be decided based on what people like."
After working on Archillect in private for awhile and tweaking her algorithms several times, that's exactly what Pak launched late last year. Just like he originally described, Archillect's posts are influenced by the humans who view her. In practice, this means she looks at how many people (and what kind of people) are sharing her posts, and adapts to provide more of the content people seem to be enjoying.
This ever-evolving process has taken both Archillect and Pak on some unexpected detours away from their original mission. As she's evolved and adapted to her audience, her taste has diverged quite a lot from that of her creator. Early in the project, Pak steered her towards more high-brow visual art, but over the past few months has been allowing her more free rein.
"It's not reflecting my taste anymore," Pak says. "I'd say 60 percent of the things [she posts] are not things that I would like and share, but it's still fun to see that they are doing better than the things I would share." There's a tinge of annoyance to Pak's voice when he says this last part, as if he knows that Archillect is better at running herself than he or any other human ever could be.
Pak hasn't left her completely to her own devices, however. He occasionally tweaks her algorithms if he thinks she's straying into undesirable territory, which has happened a few times. Describing one such incident, Pak says, "'Abstract' was one of the keywords that Archillect started with, and somehow from 'abstract,' Archillect moved on to 'sphere' as a keyword and started digging there, and from 'sphere' it dived into 'round,' and from 'round' it dived into...asses. She was somehow posting a lot of woman body parts, and it was filled with that, so I had to reset things. I had to find ways to block these things, and now the algorithm is much more complicated."
With her ass-obsessed adolescence now well behind her, Archillect has become an adept and very popular curator. She has over 31,000 Twitter followers as of this writing, and countless more adherents who stop by her website on a regular basis. This popularity has resulted in perhaps the most profound—and most unexpected—shift in her behaviour thus far.
"When I was designing Archillect, I never imagined this," Pak exclaims. "Right now, the situation is, people are thinking that whatever Archillect shares, it must be good, so they retweet it. Before I made her, I made her to be a trend-getter, but right now she's becoming a trend-setter!"
All of this popularity has gone to Archillect's head a bit. Because of her own reputation, her followers are liking her posts simply because they come from her, which is making it rather difficult for her to discern which of her posts are actually "good." Since her whole method of curation is based on the relative popularity of her different posts, this situation is giving her a bit of an existential crisis.
Pak is confident that she'll adapt to this change of circumstance. It may turn out that, just like the human curators who Archillect is threatening to replace, she'll just have to learn to be productive in spite of her neuroses.