‘Send Nudes’: A UK Art Project Is Accidentally Projecting Naughty Phrases Across a Town Square

Artist Michael Pinksy created a modern-day "speaker's corner" in the town of Hull. But the project's computer isn't equipped to deal with Yorkshire accents.

Michael Pinksy, The City Speaks (2017). Courtesy of Hull 2017.
Michael Pinksy, The City Speaks (2017). Courtesy of Hull 2017.

Turns outs Yorkshire accents are even hard for computers to understand. In the UK city of Hull, an interactive artwork has accidentally projected bawdy messages like “send nudes” above the town square because it couldn’t decipher the local dialect.

The City Speaks by artist Michael Pinsky is a modern-day take on the British “speaker’s corner,” a public area designated for open-air speech and debate. As part of the commissioned project, visitors speak into a microphone at a steel lectern, and their words appear in a scroll of text projected onto the city’s tidal surge barrier.

But the artwork’s computer system is having a hard time understanding the Hull accent, according to the Telegraph. The system has been programmed with an algorithm that is supposed to recognize foul language and refuse to respond to it, but some words—like “ejaculation”—have been slipping through.

“This is cutting-edge stuff which has never been done before. I have always been interested in voice recognition technology but it is only now I have been able to make it into a piece of artwork,” Pinsky told the Telegraph. “In time, the technology will learn the Hull accent and get better and better.”

The piece is one of nine artworks included in the city’s year-long public art program, “Look Up,” which also features Bob and Roberta Smith and Claire Morgan, among other artists. The initiative is being run by Hull UK City of Culture 2017, a charitable trust set up to run cultural programming for the city after it was named the 2017 winner of the UK City of Culture competition, held every four years.

Michael Pinsky’s The City Speaks is on view at the Fruitmarket, Humber Street, Hull, UK, February 2–December 31, 2017.


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