Our newest employee is a robot

impression of Jan Bot at work

7 June 2018

A computer program that works day and night creating experimental films that match early twentieth century footage with current trending events. This is Jan Bot, EYE Filmmuseum's first robot employee.

How can you breathe new life into an old film collection? Film archives devote endless amounts of time and energy to the preservation of old films. But this work has little significance if these treasures remain hidden from the audience. Seeking a plausible solution to this problem, Eye Filmmuseum collaborated with filmmakers Bram Loogman and Pablo Núñez Palma to envision the future of film preservation. The result: Jan Bot.

Jan Bot is a computer program designed to generate short experimental films based on two ingredients: Eye’s archival film footage, and today’s trending topics. On its website, www.jan.bot, Jan Bot streams an average of ten 30 seconds films per day, which amounts to a total of more than seven thousand pieces to date. Each day Jan Bot chooses one of these videos to post on social media.

To produce this huge amount of original work, Jan Bot makes use of artificial intelligence services found by its creators on the web. “Many big companies, like Google and IBM, are offering tools for image recognition and language analysis, some of them even for free. So we took a bunch of them and glued them together to make films”, says Loogman, one of the minds behind Jan Bot.

The results are unexpectedly unique. If at first glance Jan Bot’s films seem to combine images and text in a random fashion, on a second reading however, its choices for footage and intertitles reveal a systematic if unusual sense-making logic.

20180313.008-stephen_hawking.mp4 is the title that Jan Bot gave to this video

To give an idea, one of Jan Bot’s films combines the footage of a Dracula look-alike actor with the news that Stephen Hawking recently passed away. This match may seem absurd if it wasn’t for the editing, which loops the shot of Dracula a few times just before he lifts his hand, making him look as if he had some kind of physical paralysis. Is it our imagination, or is Jan Bot mimicking Hawking’s condition? To this question, Núñez Palma responds: “There is always a difference between the ways in which machines and humans think. Jan Bot’s films are a visual exploration of that difference.”

“I will push my algorithms to make the best found footage films ever made” - Jan Bot

At Jan Bot’s website, www.jan.bot, it is possible to watch in real-time what Jan Bot is processing or preparing for its next movie. The site also contains its complete collection of short films and a special section with notes on the research carried out by Jan Bot’s creators.

Jan Bot: bringing film heritage to the algorithmic age, is a co-production between Eye Filmmuseum and Stichting Modern Times. It was supported by the Creative Industries Fund en the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts.
The art project consists of a website and an installation.