Rhea Myers

Facecoin In More Detail

Facecoin is Bitcoin with a different Proof Of Work system. I’ll try to explain what this means here but I also recommend the following articles about Bitcoin and its protocol:



Proof of Work

Whenever a computer in the bitcoin network wants to record transactions, it must perform a simple but unguessable and time-consuming calculation then send the results to other machines on the network to verify. It is therefore computationally (and monetarily) expensive to record a transaction if you are not actually performing one. This discourages abuse of the Bitcoin network.

This calculation and its output are the “proof of work”, they prove that the computer’s user has been willing to do some work and expend some resources in order to prove their good faith:


In Bitcoin, an algorithm called SHA-256 is applied to the transaction’s data. Give SHA-256 any data and it will output a string of characters that cannot be used to recreate the original data but that will always be the same for the same data. They are a kind of identity for data:


For example, on the UNIX command line:

$ echo -n annie | sha256sum
71be92cbdfe91357146afad81827a981ec58f5a3e69e9bd4527acd74b1927938  -

$ echo -n michael | sha256sum
34550715062af006ac4fab288de67ecb44793c3a05c475227241535f6ef7a81b  -

$ echo -n rhea | sha256sum
67f70786288b7eea9b3cf5a29e8aabd9aa623388d5fc5b5805bec8f40ee2c220  -

Bitcoin uses SHA-256 to repeatedly make such an identity string for the transaction data and a number that it increases by one each try called the “nonce”. Eventually, and there’s no way of predicting precisely when but it should take about ten minutes, the output string will start with several zeroes. When it does, Bitcoin uses that as the proof of work for the transaction:


Machine Pareidolia

Pareidolia is when we mistakenly see faces in clouds, or electrical sockets, or in photographs from space probes:


Machine pareidolia is when a face detection algorithm gives a false positive, locating a face in an image when there isn’t one:


There’s been some nice art made using this:


Not every image can be mistaken for a face by a face detection algorithm, in particular finding a face in a series of randomly generated pixel images takes some time.

The amount of work required to do so will be greater than nothing, and cannot be guessed precisely. We can therefore use machine pareidolia with random images as proof of work.


Facecoin replaces Bitcoin’s search for leading zeros with a machine pareidolia search for faces.

SHA-256 output is used as an 8x8 256-level greyscale pixel map, and a face recognition algorithm is used to try to find one or more faces in it. If no faces are found, the nonce is increased and another attempt to find a face is made. This can take from one to several hundred tries.

When a face is found, the nonce and the face bounding rectangle are recorded so the proof of work can be validated.


Bitcoin is a very interesting development in cyberculture. It’s a repository for the hopes and fears of various ideologies, and a frontier or dark space for the imagination and social or economic activity in a 90s Internet way. Its protocol is a communication model of existence, identity, community and proof, with a CCRU-ish market worship at its base. Because of all of this I think it’s worthy of and desperately needs artistic investigation.

Artworks are proofs of aesthetic work, used as unique value identities both in the market (art is used as an investment, signifier of status, and symbolic resolution of lacks in free market ideology by oil oligarchs and trust fund managers) and by organized crime (stolen art is used as a medium of exchange by criminal gangs).

If Facecoin was widely adopted these two value identity systems would be trivially but critically mapped onto each other by millions of machines cranking out imaginary portraits across the network as part of a financial network, and vice versa.