Photography: Tristan Fewings

AI: More Than Human

World Museum 31/10/21

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Any mention of artificial intelligence (AI) will likely elicit visions of a dystopian future, where humans are subordinate to some kind of sentient, machine overlord. However, at the World Museum’s AI: More Than Human exhibition, it’s a lot more complicated than we think, raising the question of how technologies should be used and what that could mean for us.

Despite the expansive space, I feel dizzy as if thrown into orbit. I face an onslaught of sounds and visuals coming from every direction, with intrigued faces glued to the interactive displays. Some are typing away to chatbots, while others stand to attention, receiving a full body scan. The future is in this room.

The exhibition opens by mapping humanity’s enduring fascination with bringing to life the non-living. From early religious mythologies to Frankenstein’s monster, the nature and narrative of these creations have differed wildly across the centuries. Yet there is one glaring connection: the flourishing of artificial life ultimately leads to the downfall and destruction of its creator.

“You’re a good boy, aren’t you, Aibo?” croons one visitor’s assistant as she pets a small, barking robot dog made by Sony. Through the use of sensors, little Aibo responds to your speech and touch, and even performs a few tricks if you stick around long enough. “It’s like a real dog, but without the mess,” I’m reassured, finding it hard to match her enthusiasm.

The deeper you venture through the displays, the more immersive and thought-provoking they become. One captivating video shows how, in 2016, Google’s DeepMind developed a computer which used intuitive machine learning to become the first AI to beat world champion, Lee Sedol, at the strategy game, Go. Yet defeat by this artificial player did not discourage Sedol for long. In fact, it led him to develop innovative new strategies that had been unimaginable before. Are we seeing the first beginnings of human-AI competition?

Transitioning from robotic pets into Deep Fake videos of Barack Obama, the displays provide a sobering reminder of the more dubious ways that technology can be put to use. AI drones mobilised as autonomous weapons reinforce feelings of inevitable annihilation, while developments in biotechnology have the potential to extend life, and in doing so challenge the very notions of what we consider ‘natural’.

Then there are the more naturalised forms of AI that are already used every day, one of them being our smartphones. From shopping habits to political outlooks, our phones and computers employ complex algorithms that constantly fight for our attention. Though convenient for our busy lives, Big Tech’s countless data security scandals in recent years have exposed just how susceptible we are to manipulation from the Data Gods we so willingly hand our information to.

As if walking a tightrope, there is a fine balance to this exhibition. Never does it seek to prophesise where AI will take us, but rather lays bare its diverse potential and some of the cultural and ethical implications it raises. Tackling a topic of such complex size and scope, it dips a tentative toe into an ocean we will be forced to dive head-first into soon. If we are, as it suggests, both “unwitting and active participants” in AI’s evolution and expansion, the biggest question of this exhibition is one of power and accountability. Technology has no moral compass, unless we equip it with one. After all, who was the real monster, Frankenstein or his creation?

 

Nina took part in Bido Lito!’s Bylines writers programme, developing young culture writers of the future.  For more information and to find out about the next intake, visit bidolito.co.uk/workshops

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