A Sign In Space


Imagine one day radio telescopes around the world receiving a mysterious message from Mars. What does it contain? How to make sense of a message coming from outer space? These questions and the general premise describe A Sign In Space in a nutshell.


Daniela de Paulis conceived this project over the span of several years. The team she formed comprises over 70 individuals, including scientists, intellectuals, and artists, other than key collaborations with the SETI Institute, the European Space Agency, the Green Bank Observatory and INAF, the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics. I had the privilege of joining the project only in November ’22. However, I could make a meaningful contribution as I was part of the message team, along with Daniela and astronomer Roy Smits.


In a live performance on May 24th, 2023 the message that was loaded on the Trace Gas Orbiter, a spacecraft orbiting Mars, was beamed back to Earth. Since then, a community of space enthusiasts on Discord have been trying to make sense of the message. As of early 2024, the message is considered by the community to contain a header, body, and footer. The body, predominantly rendered as a 256×256 image, has become popularized as “the starmap”.


I won’t reveal much else until the community finishes interpreting the message. However, I can share that working on this project was an immensely humbling experience for me. The challenge of putting oneself in the shoes of another sentient entity in the universe is mind-bending to say the least. Having worked together with so many talented people made up for some of that sense of insurmountability of the task. A Sign In Space was for me also a wonderful excuse to review some of the scientific work done before us, like the Arecibo message, the Voyager Golden Record (and more generally the work of Carl Sagan), and discovering much more, like the great project by Jordi Portell.


Visit the website of the project or the discord channel for more information on the status.

The Infinite Conversation

(Illustration courtesy of John Cuneo)


The Infinite Conversation is an AI-generated, neverending conversation between Werner Herzog and Slavoj Žižek. Upon entering the website, the visitor is taken to a random point in the dialogue. New segments of the conversation are automatically added at various times and they can be generated at a faster speed than what it takes to listen to them. In theory, the conversation can continue until the end of time.


Built with freely available tools, this work was born out of a simple epiphany: that in 2022, voice cloning tools were becoming both too good and too easy to use. And that the world was (and will remain for a long time) utterly unprepared to deal with the potentially heinous consequences.


I am not proud of having created this without asking consent from Werner Herzog and Slavoj Žižek, but I think that was an important part of proving the point: unscrupulous players might have even fewer moral qualms while unleashing these powers upon far more nefarious uses. I wish Žižek took the jest in higher spirits than he did. But I have reasons to believe that at least Herzog approached it more philosophically. Then again, I also learned that Herzog does not hold Žižek very dear, so I’m sorry to have accidentally created a version of hell for his AI-avatar.


As of June 2023, over a million minutes of the Infinite Conversation have been listened to by many hundreds of thousands of people around the world, hopefully contributing to spark a conversation that at the very least, will raise awareness about Deepfakes. Read more about this project on Scientific American, Tank Magazine and Literary Hub.

Pen-plotter works

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About a month before the 2020 lockdowns I received an Axidraw pen-plotter, a wonderful machine I had been eager to experiment with for some time. I am quite terrible at hand-drawing, but I had a number of ideas that seemed better suited for paper rather than a screen. I also had countless other concepts eager to be revamped into illustrations. Overall, the pandemic’s timing worked in my favor – the creative outlet it provided was so liberating that I almost regretted returning to social obligations. I exaggerate, but for one brief moment in my life most of my energies could be dedicated to rapidly learning a new medium – and it was great.


Like with many interesting modes of expression (cough- haikus -cough), the allure of pen-plotting derives from the constraints imposed by the medium. There’s no obvious control over stroke hardness, using multiple colors is a pain, shading is not subtle. Short of bending the medium itself, the artist is essentially limited to lines and dots.


And yet, entire worlds quickly materialize from the robotic hand’s precise movements. Watching the plotter doing its work has an oddly soothing quality. Once the plotting job starts, there’s no intervention – all you can do is watch if you did your homework right, if the code you wrote translates well to the picture you envisioned, if you chose the right pens and paper for the job. The difference between the digital version and the final product is always remarkable.


An additional aspect that was new to my practice was the community centered around pen-plotting, aptly named #plotterTwitter. And even if normally I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member, I felt humbled to be part of this cohort for some time. It served as a safe space for exploration, where everyone was supportive and helpful to one another – a stark contrast from the world the media portrayed during those days. Hannah Twigg-Smith excellently captured the essence of the community in her paper Tools, Tricks, and Hacks: Exploring Novel Digital Fabrication Workflows on #PlotterTwitter.


I wish to never fall out of love with this medium. The passion of my pandemic honeymoon with the pen-plotter is over, but there’s a lot, so much, that I still want to express through those automatic arms.

The Adventures
Di Pinocchio

You shall know a word by the company it keeps
(John Rupert Firth)

The premise of The Adventures Di Pinocchio is simple: what if we could learn a new language simply by reading a book? What if we could do that without realizing it?


We’re all familiar with the notion of learning a new word after finding it in a well-known context. By seeing an unknown term surrounded by words we already know, we can pinpoint the general meaning of the new one simply by inference. As the new word is seen in more frequent and varied ways, its meaning can be refocused and we become capable of understanding and using it correctly. Now imagine doing that with words in a language you do not know. And if it’s true that to have another language is to possess a second soul, wouldn’t it be great to learn one while enjoying a novel?


The Adventures Di Pinocchio is two books in one: the English translation of Pinocchio is gradually mixed with the original Italian version. In the first few pages, an Italian word pops up here and there, made obvious by its italic type. Gradually more and more words are added to the mix. By the first quarter of the book, we see the first few, very short Italian sentences. By the middle of the novel, half of the words are in English, half in Italian. Eventually, the book ends in its original form, in glorious 19th century Italian.


Some parallelisms came to my mind while I was putting together this book. First and foremost: the journey. Pinocchio yearns to become a real boy, in the same way as any translation wants to be as close as possible to the original. Only by the end of the book you get to enjoy the prize of the real thing.


Second: the original Pinocchio is darker than any adaptation you might have seen as a cartoon or movie. Its roughness resonated with me as I witnessed the results of a “machine-mediated” linguistical metamorphosis: if translating is an arduous effort, gradually morphing sentences is bound to create even more friction. But when it does work, it is so much fun to read the ambiguous, demilitarized zone that is the bilingual sentence—the pleasure and pain of every parent of every bilingual child.


And lastly: the big lie. As Pinocchio struggles to keep his stories straight, so does The Adventures Di Pinocchio. Can you really learn Italian by reading this? Of course not. 160 pages are not nearly enough. But it’s a great start. For a more complete language transformation, I will focus on applying this same method to “In Search of Lost Time” (À la recherche du temps perdu, by Marcel Proust), a novel tallying a whopping 2,215 pages. Now that’ll be your chance to learn French!


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Update January 2023


Google Play decided that my app is too old and unmaintained to allow people to run it on their modern devices. However, after testing on Android 13, it looks like the app still works for the most part. Download the latest APK from here.




What makes a face unique? Faces are packed with details and information about a person’s past (age, sex, race, identity) and future (attention and focus). How much detail can we remove from a face before it stops making sense to us? One possible approach would be to reason in pixels and find the minimum resolution required to make a face identifiable. For instance, the following image has only 24×24 discrete points.

Monna chi?


Another approach is to reason like a facial recognition system. In the world of biometrics, there are several ways to identify each face, and they are often combined to achieve better results. One of these approaches consists of tracking distinct features of a face, (chin, mouth, left and right eye…) in a 2 or 3D space. Measuring the distance between those points can yield good results in identifying a face.


This is where polygonSelfie enters the picture. Looking at the wireframe version of our faces reveals a seductive and deceptively simple aesthetic. Gone are the messy details of the window to our soul. We are left with a barebone, vectorial version of ourselves. As selfies continue to represent the story of Narcissus in the XXI century, polygonSelfie offers us a peek into an increasingly likely future, one in which the continuous merging with the Machine and the acceptance of a universal Panopticon have become the norm.


polygonSelfie is an Android app, compatible with most mobile phones and tablets with an integrated camera. polygonSelfie is very processor-intensive and its prolonged usage may over-heat your device. polygonSelfie could not exist without the fabulous community behind openFrameworks, the powerful dlib toolkit and, last but not least, Boris Nikolaevich Delaunay.



WikiBinge (Noun | /ˌwiːkiˈbinj/): Compulsive urge to read connected Wikipedia pages for a long amount of time.


WikiBinge is a tool for creating interesting paths between two subjects chronicled on Wikipedia. WikiBinge generates the story of how flimsily Alpha is connected to Omega and compels you to follow that rich, linear narration through unexpected discoveries and findings.


But what does “interesting paths” mean? Those familiar with the theory of six degree of separation won’t be surprised to discover that it’s possible to connect most Wikipedia articles following just a few links. However almost every shortest path is ridden with banality, passing through huge hyperconnected articles like “United States of America” or “World War II”.


WikiBinge instead tends to generate paths that require dozens of links to reach the destination. What matters is the journey, not the destination. Embracing this spirit, WikiBinge selects the smaller, less represented articles on Wikipedia during this journey. In a WikiBinge path the underdogs are the kings.


What WikiBinge shows during this journey mirrors the distribution of content on Wikipedia. It’s quite common for a WikiBinge path to go through unknown actors, sportsmen or remote places. This is consistent with the findings of previous studies on the distribution of topics in Wikipedia, like [Kittur, A., Suh, B., Chi, E. (2009). What’s in Wikipedia?], which places at 59% the amount of content about “Culture and the arts”, “People and self”, “Geography and places” on Wikipedia.


Also, editors of the English version of Wikipedia (which recently passed the 5 million article mark) tend to have an English Bias, a Western Bias, and they tend to be highly educated and computer savvy. This is all reflected in the results of WikiBinge, as you will promptly find by navigating through a streak of 15 articles about lesser known comic characters.


That everything is connected with everything is now common sense. But it’s how things are connected that keeps surprising me over and over, even as a longstanding fan of James Burke’s Connections.


WikiBinge is the product of a society with a problem of information overload. It reminds us how compulsive consumption of information is deeply ingrained in our way of thinking and how fiddling with snippets of information for its own sake is like trying to quench an infinite thirst.


This is perhaps why WikiBinge is, like “The Road Not Taken”, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It fools us into thinking about the beautiful results of choosing the path less traveled, but its self-deception is revealed too late, when we’re sinking in an ocean of information. And sinking in this sea is sweet to me…



Cutup rearranges the words of the messages you receive and generates small composition of depthless wisdom and questionable hilarity. If you exchange a lot of SMSes with your buddies, this app is for you. The generated snippets of poetry try to follow as closely as possibly the haiku rules and will match the writing style and themes of your friends.


The app attempts to imitate two of the three haiku qualities: the “cutting” (kiru) and the 5-7-5 rule. The rule of kigo (seasonal reference) was implemented and later discarded in favor of a more desirable property, language independence. If your peers write to you SMSes in any latin-scripted language, you will probably be able to run Cutup. Very interesting haikus were generated in the following languages: english; portuguese; italian; spanish, french. I suspect that it wouldn’t work so well with German due to the larger average letter-count of the deutsche Sprache, but feel free to try it out for yourself.


In order to get the best results, use Cutup with the person you exchange the highest amount of interesting message. For this funny app I express my love and gratitude to: Paulo Patricio, Mark V. Shaney and Apophenia.


Update June 2016


Cutupbot is a modernized and revamped version of Cutup written for Twitter. It’s a simple bot that creates haiku using the style of any given profile on Twitter. To interact with Cutupbot, simply send a message on Twitter @cutupbot indicating which account you wish to plagiarize. For instance “@cutupbot could you write for me a haiku of @dalailama?”, or simply “@cutupbot @dalailama” if you feel imperative.


Usually results will be more interesting or convincing if the account selected has at least several hundred messages. If Cutup doesn’t find a certain amount of words, it will refuse to generate a haiku.


You can specify to generate five messages at the time adding on your message the hashtag #gimmefive. If the account you are plagiarizing uses the English language, you may try the optional hashtag #kigo. Looking for a kigo works well only on a few accounts and your mileage may vary. Options can be combined together. “@cutupbot @dalailama #gimmefive #kigo”


Update January 2023


Google Play decided that my app is too old and unmaintained to allow people to run it on their modern devices. However, after testing on Android 13, it looks like the app still works for the most part. The irony is that one of the few places in the world where people use SMSes and where this app could be relevant, is also the country where the presence of an Android phone is still looked as some sort of contagious disease: the US of A.


At any rate, if you wish to install the app on your device, you can download the APK from here.


It also looks like Mr. Musk decided to make Twitter a less stable platform for bots and I decided to pull off the bot, rather than maintaining it. If you wish to see how it looked like in a very ancient past, the Wayback Machine is there for us.


Lastly: the offspring of Cutup is a LLM paper.


Burning Rome


Burning Rome is a wealth distribution map of the Italian capital. Most maps of this kind display only average values according to each area of a city. Burning Rome also does that, but the unusual thing about it is that you can actually zoom down to the single household and see the declared income of the individual.


Rome is the city where I grew up in. Since I started exploring it during my adolescence, I’ve been exposed to the socio-economic divisions of the city, the sad ghettoization of some areas and the posh pockets of extreme wealth. This project attempts to visualize what is largely already common knowledge, but while doing so it can shed some light on another important issue.


Arguably what’s most informative of this map is not discovering where the really rich are, but where some of the really poor live. Since the data is based upon income declarations, and since such declaration is often tweaked in order to hide wealth to the fiscal agency (a despicably common practice in the Italian scene), it’s reasonable to expect that the rich will not declare more than what they actually earn, while plenty of people certainly will declare much less than what they have. There will be probably a dozen more ways to explain the plethora of people living -according to the data- on the brink of poverty, yet somehow residing on the most expensive and exclusive areas of the city. Still, a reasonable doubt is raised.


The data used for this project is not updated and comes from a controversial data liberation initiative taken by the Italian IRS back in 2008, when all the fiscal declarations of the country relative to the year 2005 were published online. Even if the declaration of income is a public act and as such freely consultable, the Italian population, against every desirable and professed openness, demanded the dataset to be taken offline in the name of privacy.


Out of almost one million declarations for the city of Rome, 103.615 were sampled, geotagged and mapped with a color according to the income. Every personal information about individuals were discarded during the process.


I’d love to have fiscal data of Rome from every year and visualize the gentrification in progress. A man can dream.



Memeoirs was my third startup and definitely the one I loved the most. It was a webapp that allowed anyone to create a physical book out of online conversations. Email, Facebook or WhatsApp. Have you ever wondered what will happen to your letters and messages after the digital holocaust? We had the solution for you.


Developed with some of my best buddies under the collective name of Fitmemes, Memeoirs was born after an epiphany while staring at my mailbox. Laying in front of me were thousands of letters documenting more than half of my life. Just over a year later Memeoirs went online, where it stayed for 5 amazing years during which it lived all the phases of a typical startup. What follow is the original manifesto of the project.


Memeoirs: your emails in a book. Seriously? Yes, no joke.


We take communication very seriously and we realized the evocative power of our past correspondences. Being able to experience again the emotions connected with what we wrote and what others wrote to us can be a real thrill. Sometimes it’s like staring at the novel of your life.


While being participants of the pervasive real-time frenzy of The Internet, we at Fitmemes are also strong supporters of All Things Physical and of the reassuring stability of printed press. “These words will forever be on this page” reminds us of the value and the mono-tasking dedication we gave in writing a snail mail to our peers.


Created to merge this duality, Memeoirs is as broad and versatile as email can be and it reflects the habits of the author. It has been used to collect love letters, buddies emails, academic exchanges and even meeting minutes.


No matter what kind of email user you are, if you are reading this it’s because you probably give to your writing the attention it deserves. By bringing letters back to paper Memeoirs gives the opportunity to convey the timelessness and profundity of your ideas in a book. Make the best of it.

Chemin Vert


Update July 2015:
As of today, Youtube allows to see an immersive version of Chemin Vert out of the box. This is the best way to watch the video on a mobile device. Make sure to pick the best resolution (1440p)!


Chemin Vert is an immersive video of a trip on the road at supersonic speed spanning across five continents and four seasons. The title “Chemin Vert” refers to its soundtrack from musician A Ghost Train. The video exists in two forms: an immersive version and a “regular” video you can see on vimeo.


The bone shattering speed simulated is roughly over 1500 km/h (that’s close to 1000 mph, you imperialists). The whole concept is the visualization of one of my childhood fantasies, riding a rocket launched at full speed just above the ground of a long road.


Chemin Vert has been brewing over a few years. Different techniques were employed in the beginning, involving long trips on the road across Europe while shooting time-lapse videos on the go. Back then the scope of the project was substantially different, concentrating more on the augmentation (as in augmented-reality) of landscapes. At a certain point the focus was shifted on the aesthetic qualities of the landscapes and on the immersive factor. In the final version of Chemin Vert the original footage comes from Google Street View, without which this project wouldn’t have been possible. Thanks Google. Thoogle.


The original version of Chemin Vert as immersive, interactive video can be appreciated at its fullest resolution here. The ultimate form of Chemin Vert is still waiting to be built: an installation as a full-dome projection.


Slippery Concepts

Your browser isn't flash enabled. Here's a video of Slippery Concept instead:

This project was developed using Flash, a now-defunct technology. In order to view it, you will need to install a browser plugin called Ruffle.
Firefox plugin | Chrome plugin


Slippery Concepts is semantic-crossword explorer. Start with a word of your choice. Clicking on a letter of that word, a new one is crossed. The relation is twofold: there’s an orthographic connection (the two words now share a letter in common) and a semantic link. The new word can be a synonym, a hyponym or a hypernym of the original one. This is the beginning of a journey that can potentially bring you from any word to any word in a given number of steps.


Henry Adams once said that “no one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous”. Slippery Concepts is a way to experience that first hand, building stairway-crosswords that rise up to new unpredictable meanings or slip down to the very core of language.


Conceived for a touch table installation, Slippery Concepts can be fun from a browser too.

Down The Meta Hole


I always loved Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. And Disney’s adaptation too! In this video the key scene of Alice falling down the rabbit hole is processed so that each frame is composed with pieces of that very same scene. In order to appreciate the strange loop of the clip it’s recommendable to watch it on a very large screen.


Beside marrying happily the self-referential nature of Alice in Wonderland, this technique is well applied on this particular scene in which our heroin descends through different levels, each of very marked hues.


A mesostic is like an acrostic with a poetic license: the vertical word intersects lines at any point instead of just at the beginning. Mesosticator is a very simple tool to help building up verses ala John Cage. The task is made particularly easier if either the vertical word or the larger horizontal corpus is already formed.