Aesthetics ... computerised

New graphic algorithm arranges images by visual characteristics such as size and colour. Credit: Bernhard Reinert/MPI

The amount of data flooding our perception is overwhelming. No wonder that researchers are looking at ways to represent them in ways that can be immediately perceived.

It is clear that a graphic showing the trend of a series is better understood than a series of numbers in an Excel spreadsheet (although rendering through graphics may generate false perception, as it is the case with exponential growth where we perceive, depending of the scale used, the existence of a point where all of a sudden there is an explosion, which is actually not the case. This is just a side effect of the parameters chosen on the axes...).

But what about an artistic representation of data, something that has an aesthetics that can prompt a sense of nicety....?

It would seem unlikely that a computer can be taught a sense of aesthetics and therefore be able to create "nice to see" representation. Actually, this is what researchers at the Max Plank Institute for Informatics have been able to do by extracting some properties out of objects and creating an algorithm to order these objects in what turns out to be a pleasing image (see picture and clip).

As shown in the video clip, the researchers are "extracting" some properties (like size, hue, shape) and create a two dimensional order (possibly constrained within specific shapes, like shown in the picture) that result in an aesthetic appeal to our eyes (or better, to our brain).

Our brain is fascinated by order, since order means simplified pattern recognition and therefore it requires less effort, less computation. I know that I will be hated by many, but in the end it is all about laziness, or effectiveness: Nature has pursued the most efficient (energy wise) solutions and we perceive this in terms of "nicety", including aesthetic aspects. Patterns, like those created by the Fibonacci series, so common in Nature because that is the way that growth usually happens, have cabled our neuronal recognition system so that any pattern based on a Fibonacci series is easier to process, which, at perception level, means it is more pleasing to the eye.

It is amazing to see how different areas of science, and arts, mix to provide a better understanding about Nature and about us!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sPuQiWaLvA#t=164
Author - Roberto Saracco

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