Give infinite monkeys infinite typewriters and over an infinite timeline, they will come up with Hamlet. You know the thought experiment. But apply the same concept to brute forcing every possible photograph, pixel by pixel, and the idea becomes just slightly less ludicrous.
Non-ludicrous enough that artist Jeffrey Thompson is actually giving it a try, though on a (relatively) smaller scale.
The project is fittingly called “Every Possible Photograph” and is attempting to brute force its way through every conceivable combination of pixels that could fit in an image. But so it doesn’t take an infinity Thompson has scaled it down to something that’s merely “totally absurd” instead of “utterly impossible.” Specifically, Thomspon’s exhibition limits its scope to black and white images on a tiny, tiny, tiny 10 by 15 pixel display which cuts down the calculation time to a mere 4.6 x 1079 years, roughly. You know, just a few hundred quadrillion times longer than the expected life of the solar system. No biggie.
Thompson himself describes the project this way:
This project investigates the idea of using computation to “use up” a piece of technology, in this case a digital camera.
…Attempting to create every image a camera is essentially a time machine; somewhere in the set of images and alongside billions of “meaningless” others are a photograph of me, a photograph of me if I didn’t get a haircut last week, and a photograph of me with someone who I have never met.
It isn’t the first time anyone’s tried this; you can go watch the same basic principle play out on a bigger grid but with fewer colours right here. And it also won’t be the first time utterly fails. After all, even if you could generate all those images in a timely fashion, how would you shift through the 99.9999999 per cent that’s crap? And if you could do that, it would take practically forever. Even so, it’s wild to think about all possible images you could ever see quantified into one finite number, no matter how unfathomably huge. Futility has never been so cool. [Jeffrey Thompson via PetaPixel]