Augury is a collaborative project produced with Wesley Goatley for London Design Festival 2018. Augury draws predictions of the future from the live positions of planes in a 20km radius around it. This is an allusion to the ancient Greek and Roman practice of Augury - a method of divination performed by reading the flight patterns of birds.

The neural network at the core of the project has been trained on six months of flight data; the longitude, altitude and latitude of all planes in a 20km radius of the exhibition. At the same time tweets containing the word ‘future’ also from a 20km radius were gathered. By training the network to correlate these data sets, we can synthesise new prognostications about the future from current plane positions when visitors speak the phrase 'There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.'

The large ceiling projection shows live the current positions of planes directly above the installation in a 20km radius. The planes are visualised with their numbers and airlines as murmurations of sparrows – a natural phenomena where a flock of sparrows move in dazzling patterns displaying properties of emergent complexity. This is also a technical fix to the limited and imperfect freely available ADSB plane data.

Both the chorus of voices that chant each prediction and Augury’s speech detection are produced by machine learning systems in Google and Amazon’s underground data centres. This is the same infrastructure that these companies and many others use for their own attempts at prediction, such as guessing the future behaviours, shopping habits, and political leanings of their users.

The multiple applications of machine learning used in Augury combine as a parody of the contemporary obsession with algorithmic prediction, and the capacities and limitations of the neural networks which underpin it.

Augury was produced for and exhibited as part of the Supra Systems Studio launch at London Design Festival 2018

09.2018 – Everything Happens So Much, London Design Festival

12.2019 – WIRED.COM

Last updated: 05.2020