Artificial Intelligence and Orange Jump Suits

I was searching online for the site, where I found a certain ISIS execution image, since I can not remember – and I forgot to write the link down. It is this one:AI and the Iconic1


Sure, the results were what I have expected and looked like this:AI and the Iconic2

It goes on like this for quite some time. Execution upon execution. But if you look closely, it gets quite interesting and somewhat complex. It does not show the same execution over and over again, rather it shows different, very similar stills. This tells me different things. First of all, whoever shot these videos for ISIS, has been very careful setting them up, so to create an iconic image of the scene. The one still seems enough to tell the whole story. This gets so far, that some media outlets use these images and completely forget to tell the name of the victim. These videos – and the stills from them – have become archetypal. They illustrate “terror” and the details seem almost unimportant.

But then there is the fact that these videos all show “western” victims (I use quotes, since Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto were Japanese). Maybe they show “our” victims. What I mean with that is the fact that I have seen so many videos with men in orange jump suits kneeling on the ground, before being executed, and most of them use a similar composition.

I think there is a feedback loop at play here. Since western media mostly report on western victims, the image search algorithm values these images higher than others. But is it OK? Mmmhhh, I think one could definitely argue against it and call it media bias. Then again, of course members of what we consider our own society are more deeply connected to us, than “strangers”. It is biased, but maybe understandably so. And ISIS gets this as well. This is exactly, why Iraqis, Kurds, Syrians or Libyans are often executed “by the dozen” whereas the execution of a westerner becomes its own feature film. Some of these films that show the execution of westerners, also show the execution of groups of other prisoners – but this happens as a byproduct. I don’t think it should come as a surprise when we realize that ISIS – among many other things – seems to be racist.

But back to the image search. One thing the results do not show is this:


This is an image from the early 2000s that was taken at Guantanamo prison. We almost forget that this is actually what ISIS is referring to, when using these orange jump suits. But maybe they overdid, what they did. OK, I am writing from my own, western, perspective, but to me it seems as if the orange jump suit does not so much represent the atrocities by the West. Rather perception has shifted towards associating this iconic piece of clothing with the atrocities committed by ISIS and Co. I wonder if they realize this. The more they use it, the more they are the ones associated with this icon of injustice.

The same seems to be true, when searching for the term “orange jump suit”.AI and the Iconic4

On the first page, there is almost no mentioning of Guantanamo – there is one image of an Iraqi prisoner threatened by a dog though. “Orange Jump Suit” mostly seems to be connected to the american prison system and – oddly – sexy ladies wearing them. That might have something to do with the TV series “Orange is the New Black”. But there is a link to a further search in relationship to ISIS at the top of the page.

Another somewhat strange example I encountered was a video from 2013, that shows rapper and actor Mos Def (or Yasiin Bey – the name he uses now). In this video he undergoes the routine of force feeding that was used at the time in Guantanamo (maybe it still is) and caused quite some media outrage. It is interesting that to fully undergo this treatment he apparently also had to wear an orange jump suit. Maybe this gives the whole procedure more authenticity, but I find such details quite often slightly absurd.mos defI wonder if it is more or less painful, if you are wearing orange. OK, that is cynical. But I would get the fact, that this is torture, even without him wearing this symbolic piece of clothing.

While thinking about this, I was wondering how clever the algorithm actually is and if it manages to understand the icon in its most basic form. Jihadi

This is what I came up with very briefly. But unfortunately neither Google, nor any other image search site I tried came up with any result.  So maybe AI has still some way to go.