Online Arts and Lit Editor, Ariane Joudrey, explores the Barbican’s recent art exhibition, AI: More Than Human.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the endeavour to understand and recreate human intelligence using machines. AI: More Than Human is an extraordinary art and technology exhibition which opened at The Barbican in London this summer. Part of its ‘Life Rewired’ season, More Than Human explores “what it means to be human in a digital era”. The exhibition evokes thoughtfulness and an almost out-of-body contemplation of not only our lives as humans, but the technological lives we create.
When entering the exhibition, Steve Goodman’s 5 Channel Audio supports the background noise and sets the atmosphere for your experience. It is inspired by the Jewish myth of the Golem of Prague – a magic figure who protected the Jewish community before turning against its creator. The sound piece explores the possibility of artificial intelligence using humans to assemble itself and then becoming indifferent to the needs it was intended to serve. Reminiscent of Shelley’s ‘The Modern Prometheus’ or ‘Frankenstein’, the development of artificial intelligence is moving its way into literature and art as an expression of society’s suppressed anxiety about the threats that AI may present in the future.
“…artificial intelligence is moving its way into literature and art as an expression of society’s suppressed anxiety about the threats that AI may present in the future.”
The fears surrounding the modern notion of AI have origins in Gothic tradition, blending the boundaries between the dead and the living. Sigmund Freud’s theory of the Uncanny explores this – something that is both familiar (human) and unfamiliar (machine). Robots such as Minsky’s tentacle arm (the first visually responsive, computer controlled mechanical arm), and Brook’s Roomba (bug-inspired robot vacuum cleaner) are illustrative of this transgression between what is human and what is not human.
AI developments challenge our preconceived notions the ‘natural’ in our day-to-day lives. The technology gives us the ability to evolve beyond natural methods. It gives us the potential to eradicate illnesses, produce new food groups and even extend life.
Lauren McCarthy, who contributed the video work to the exhibition, believes that “There is always a hopeful element in my projects. For me, it’s about the grey area where you are not sure what to think. Instead of being asked to react immediately, you can sit down and figure out which parts feel worrying, exciting, hopeful.”
“Artificial Intelligence provides a much more efficient way of managing the world…”
Creators of artificial intelligence have begun using neural networks which mimic human brain function and can be trained to recognise images, patterns or numbers, and then apply their deductions to form conclusions. This has led to the development of self-driving cars and has sped-up the process of cancer diagnoses. Machines are doing the work of humans, and at an even better rate. Once again, this provokes the uniquely human fear that the majority of jobs will, in 30 years-time, be automated and mechanised.
Artificial Intelligence provides a much more efficient way of managing the world and making the most of the technology available to us in order to make human life better. However, does it also mean that humans are losing control and placing it in the hands of self-thinking robots? The question gives endless fuel to artists and dystopian fiction writers. For example, in Veronica Roth’s Divergent, the aptitude test, what is essentially artificial intelligence, decides who a person will be for the rest of their life, thereby taking that control, freedom and choice away from the individual.
To what extent should we really be concerned about our technological evolutions? Do the benefits outweigh our fears? That’s up to you.