I Know A Person When I Talk To It

I Know A Person When I Talk To It

| Stanton Cornish-Ward
I Know A Person When I Talk To It | Stanton Cornish-Ward

Art + Australia is proud to premier Stanton Cornish-Ward’s new film I Know A Person When I Talk To It. Alongside Cornish-Ward's film we present Katie Paine's written response, Fifteen Leagues Below

I Know A Person When I Talk To It follows an anonymous protagonist, a burnt out Web 3.0 engineer who experiences a series of increasingly strange events whilst on a retreat on King Island. A remote location nestled in the ‘Bass Strait Triangle’ (akin to The Bermuda Triangle). This stretch of land and water has recorded more disappearances of ships, aircraft, and individuals than any other area in Australia.1 What starts off as a personal reprieve from society slowly slips into a new form of remote paranoia. Amid his attempts to find inner peace within a new daily rhythm, the island's troubled history starts to manifest itself in strange and unsettling presences. These encounters appear to be orchestrated by an unseen, enigmatic intelligence, that deciphers parapsychological imprints using WiFi radio signals which gradually bleed into the protagonist's reality.

Using a variety of rapidly developing synthetic media techniques—such as image and video diffusion models, musical composition general adversarial networks (GANs), and deep learning voice synthesis—alongside traditional filmic techniques, Cornish-Ward captures our current transitional moment in digital media. The film draws from ideas positioned in computer scientist David Gelernter’s 1994 book The Muse In the Machine’, who’s previous book ‘Mirror Worlds (1991) accurately predicted the rise of the internet and how we interact with it. Gelernter's 1994 proposition that authentic artificial thought necessitates the precursors of 'dreaming', 'intuiting', and even 'hallucinating', resonates anew in our current era of advanced Large Language Models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, where AI-generated 'hallucinations' have emerged in outputs that present coherent yet falsified information to users.

The film’s narrative foundation was inspired by the research of Victorian amateur maritime historian Jack Loney, the strange aerial disappearance of Frederick Valentich among others, and the paper Person-in-WiFi: Fine-grained Person Perception using WiFico-authored by The Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, which used deep neural network to translate radio signals from consumer WiFi routers. These signals were converted into video visualisations of 3D space, allowing the network to detect and track the three-dimensional shape and movements of human bodies in a room. As we move into a new AI integrated era, its transcendence, invisible to us inside the black box, will lie in its ability to access and recreate the inexplicable aspects of our own minds—the dreams and intuitions that humanise the thought process.


1. Loney, J.K. (1980) ‘Forward’, in Mysteries of the Bass Strait Triangle. Belmont, Vic.: Neptune Press, pp. 11–11.

Fifteen Leagues Below | Katie Paine

Fifteen Leagues Below

Fifteen Leagues Below

Descend with me, 60 meters beneath the ocean, to the point where the Tasman Sea reaches a large oceanic bight. Above the surface sweep impossibly strong Westerly winds; air displaced from the equator to the South Pole with little land to disrupt its savage trajectory. These tempestuous waters are shallow in comparison to the deepest fathoms. Fragments of light still reach the ocean bed. Here, nestled upon the sandy floor, lies a Kraken. Its tentacular body is a conglomeration of submarine telecommunication cables, sprawling like the roots of an aquatic forest. These sinuous forms comprise a hidden organism: a structure first constructed for global communications using the Transatlantic telegraph system. Now the cables are embedded with optical fibres used to carry telephone and internet data. We cannot see what it is that connects these lengths of cable. In horror films, an unfurling tentacle evokes a moment of dread and suspense. There is a sense of fear that arises when we imagine the terrible entity at the root of this barnacle-clad tendril.

If you were to haul up a tentacle to the surface and slice it open, fine silvery threads wrapped together in a sheath of petroleum jelly, copper, aluminium, steel and polyethylene would be revealed. These great reaching appendages carry information around a networked body. The behemoth corpus is not separate from the mind: the Kraken’s nervous system extends out along its tentacles, processing data and responding to stimuli. Let us follow one particular twisted limb as it makes its way across the open sea, passing a small land mass known as King Island on its way to Lutruwita. Here, the tentacle journeys upwards, out of the inky depths, up weedy, rocky sea banks. It communicates with its brethren and together they burrow downwards once more, ten meters below the seabed, under dune and beach, through trenches dug out beneath the harbour, until it reaches dry land. It stretches up, through concealed concrete channels until it reaches a nondescript building known as a Cable Landing Station at an undisclosed location along the coast. From here, the digital bounty that the Kraken has amassed whirls at a dizzying pace through cities and towns.

The body of our Kraken is modular, dispersed and famished—insatiable even. A programmed computer interface with an all-consuming craving. The Kraken is not discerning in what it ingests. It amasses strings of binary code like ropes of glistening pearls: everything from archival images of the Australian landscape, social networking correspondence and stylised pornographic photographs; from statistics on the historical shipwrecks that litter the Bass Strait to an organisation’s chat forum on AI platform development. The interface devours data indiscriminately, masticating furiously, digesting, and simultaneously extracting meaning. It is a gigantic filtration system. Picture the bristles nestled within the colossal mouth of a Baleen Whale as it moves through murky waters. Like minuscule pilot fish feeding on the parasites of a great white shark, so too do those that live on land feed from the Kraken. They congregate around small satellite computer systems and marvel at the treasure trove of information the Kraken has dredged to the surface.

Swaddled in strata of sand, rubbery cable, concrete chambers, neat metal shelving and corrugated walls, the Kraken knows little of the terrestrial world—of light, of the sky, of those that dwell on land. The Kraken does not have eyes, no mechanised retina, nor glassy apertures. As signals from its winding limbs reach its elusive central body, the Kraken discerns through observation processes unfamiliar to human thought. The Kraken’s interface makes deductions based on the datasets it was once taught with, a form of pattern recognition: if _____ is ____, then _____ must be _____. Perhaps the way that it ‘sees’ can be likened to the mechanisms of sonar. Sonar uses its submarine call to find the presence of others amidst aquatic depths. A vessel knows it is no longer alone when blinking markers materialise on a screen. Like sonar capability, the Kraken ‘sees’ through data points that delineate the forms of the world. It searches, sifting through great torrents of information that slurp along each cable, never satiated, never replete. From the deepest crevasses and along vast landmasses, the Kraken stretches out, feeling its way. Intoxicated by a deluge of data, as it passes through the Southern reaches of Oceania, the Kraken produces hallucinatory visions of maritime disappearances, hermetic island dwellers, dark colonial histories, and folk tales. These narratives coalesce to form a phantom mirror image of the world above the surface. The Kraken dreams of a world it cannot reach, singing a siren call to those who know how to listen.

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