Custom Software Will Produce Every Possible Digital Photograph

Custom Software Will Produce Every Possible Digital Photograph

TLDR; an artist is iterating through every combination of pixels to produce every possible digital photograph so as to explore the concept of infinity.

Some commentary:

This is less interesting to me as an exploration of infinity, since there are a provably finite number of unique combinations of pixels for any given resolution and color depth.

Of course, for any reasonably sized image, say 640×480 at 24bpp, the number is exceedingly large. It’s about 2 to the 7 million, in this case, which would take more time than the age of the universe to merely count, given computers that today can typically count to only 2^64 sometime before you die. That’s not really that interesting, because counting images is no way to find anything interesting in there.

What’s more interesting to me is the underlying idea that every image is just a number. If you see an array of colored pixels as the mere bits they are, then it’s more obvious that there is a distinct integer or index matched to each unique image. A paint program, like Photoshop, is not actually helping you “draw” anything, in this sense, but merely changing which of those strings of bits are being displayed at any given time.

Yes, so therefore a paint program is just navigating through a pre-determined space of all possible images of a given size. Painting just one pixel is enough to move a little or a lot in that finite space.

You didn’t make that nice piece of art, you merely steered the computer towards it.

But what’s even more interesting is the idea that all of those images already and provably exist. That’s right, if you know the number, you know the image and vice-versa. Whether anyone’s ever seen the funny picture of George W. Bush lighting his hair on fire isn’t the point — that image definitely exists, and at 640×480 is going to be very clear. Whether it’s a photo of anything real is another story. And since movies are just strings of strings of bits, the same goes for video too.

So, one might ask, what the hell is copyright for digital imagery but a claim of owning a specific number, or set of numbers that represent the same approximate image? This would go for books and music too, btw, but let’s not wander.

I was so fascinated by this concept when I was younger that I wrote an April Fools post for an old computer graphics usenet group back in 1993. Thanks to Google usenet archives, I have recovered the text (yes, I really wrote this and posted it anonymously while I worked at Disney):


October 21, 1993 — [Geneva] Two Swiss scientists announced last week their stunning discovery of a method for generating and storing any conceivable picture using ordinary personal computers. Called The Database of Every Picture Imaginable, or DOEPI, their system is currently seeking patent and copyright protection in virtually every industrialized nation, including the United States.

Other image generation and storage technologies have been introduced in the past to help cope with the incredible demands of Multimedia and Video-Dialtone but, according to co-inventor Dr. Francois La Tete, of the Alpine Institute, a well-respected Swiss mathematical society, DOEPI is the first system which is capable of storing literally every image.  “Our proprietary algorithm is the first of it’s kind,” says La Tete, ” It can compress every image into such a compact space that the software can run with less than one megabyte of memory.”

Indeed, the performance of their system is impressive. Independent experts have confirmed that when fed a “bit-index-code” (a string of 1’s and 0’s which tell the database how to find the proper image