I guess it’s worth mentioning: I work in the space where tech meets advertising. My personal artistic interests have always floated around the intersection of new media and interaction. How technology can be used to enhance experience - that was my thing. I firmly believe technology is neutral and can serve as an enabler - a tool for artists to tell their stories. I stand by that.
By being immersed in the industry I see trends come and go, a lot of what the brands invest on ends up scaling and becoming more accessible. Before you roll your eyes, I must say that a lot of experimentation comes from advertising. With healthy budgets, it is easier to test, research and have the resources needed to create, using new mediums and gadgets. There are a lot of artists undercover, working in the industry. And these people, are there questioning, adapting, discovering and unveiling new ways to present information and create experiences. But it comes with a cost - a client, I know. But it’s a way.
Within the context of trends, I see an ongoing peak in the ask and conversations around Artificial Intelligence. Somewhat misinterpreted, but still valid, machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing can be great tools to optimize certain processes, generate insight, mimic performance, and augment the creative process. Augment - never substitute. For a more technical write-up on AI, check out this article Blair Neal, a colleague at Fake Love, wrote.
SHOW AND TELL
I’m super interested in dance, and an AI piece that caught my attention was Pattern Recognition, by visual artist Memo Akten and choreographer Alexander Whitley. “Pattern Recognition is a performance for two dancers and light, exploring themes of learning, memory, representation and recognition. The piece explores these themes not only artistically and choreographically, but also in the underlying technology driving it, based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Explored in both a human context, and a machine context, each approach informing the other.”
On the backend of this project, they use Artificial Intelligence to train and predict. When exposing the system to both dancers, they trained it to recognize the patterns and movements performed by the trainers when interacting to each other. With a trained machine, they then exposed the system to only one dancer and the system was able to predict a reaction, based on the information it had learned during the training. The result is an intelligent duet of men and machine/lights.
Moving on to voice recognition and exploring the realm of digital voice assistants, a commissioned (but open source!) Google piece by Red Paper Heart provides another interpretation of AI as an artistic tool. In Talk To the Light, they combined the AI tech behind the Google Assistant to a responsive light output, making the light beams react to the audience’s voice commands.
NEW TECH, OLD HABITS
Using new tech is awesome, but have you thought about questioning it? Gender in AI is a theme that is constantly brought up as its variations become more and more embedded in our daily lives. When you think that machines are being programmed by biased human beings, you start to understand that the training is biased too.
Think about “service AIs”, like GPS, voice assistants, customer service bots. By default, they are mostly assigned a female voice.
Then think about - as pointed out by artist Claire L Evans, a “generation of children, growing up with these tools, were becoming accustomed to barking commands to pliant, subservient lady machines. Weird.”
Under that premise, Evans teamed up with engineer Tracy Chou for a collaboration that highlighted and made gender bias more evident - even if you think you’re immune to it. Commissioned by Rhizome as part of the Seven on Seven Conference “SVS, is both a play and a kind of bias test. It’s ‘written for four bots,’ but the names, genders, nationalities, and voices of those bots are randomized. This shifting ‘casting’ helps to tease out the audience’s own biases about what the implicit dynamics are between the characters. The action is always the same, but it feels different every time. The play is short enough that one might play through it more than once, to see what changes. It unfolds in a Silicon Valley work environment, so the changing dynamics on display are additionally imbued with issues of power, authority, and workplace diversity.”
For me, this is a great example of storytelling that is enabled by technology. The artistic concept is intact. The idea of questioning bias is still there, as it is on a painting or on a documentary. It is just told through a tool that immerses the audience in a different way.
I’ll just let that sink in.