The Barbican’s AI: More Than Human exhibition

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: : 'What a Loving and Beautiful World' by teamLab is displayed as part of the 'AI: More than Human' exhibition at the Barbican Curve Gallery on May 15, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Barbican Centre)

Chat online with artificial intelligence; drive a race car and let the AI guess what you’re feeling; play catch with a robot dog; compete in mind games with a computer.

These are some of the interactive elements of the Barbican Centre’s newest exhibition AI: More Than Human. It forms a part of the year’s Life Rewired season, in which visitors are invited to witness how technology is changing what it means to be human.

AI: More Than Human will really make you question how unique we as humans are while imagining a future (and even a present) where robots either match or surpass our own mental capabilities.

The entire exhibition kicks off fairly slowly by unravelling the ancient Japanese and Jewish roots of man-made intelligent life through a more traditional style of exhibit – artefacts matched with descriptions. It’s not the most exciting thing, but the pace quickly ramps up.

Guests learn a bit more about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage’s early experiments in computing before moving on to AI’s major developmental leaps from the 1940s through to the present day. They do well in showing how an age-old dream of creating intelligence has already become today’s reality.

Today’s technology will slowly but surely freak you out with its impressive capacity to think, reason and learn.

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‘Aibo’ the dog by Sony Corporation is too damn adorable. Photos and lead image by Tristan Fewings

Artist Mario Klingemann’s piece Circuit Training throws random computer-generated images on to a screen. You either swipe left or right (like Tinder) to tell the programme whether you like or dislike each image. It will then continually show more and more pictures, learning what you like before you are then given exactly what you want. It’s a little creepy to see how a computer can understand your personal interests and adapt in real time.

One very small part of the exhibit consists of a simple computer screen and keypad where you chat with artificial intelligence like you’re on MSN. You can ask it anything and it will instantaneously respond.

Ask it about its own existence, its gender, whether it wants to take over the world, or simply whether or not it likes Beyoncé. By the way, it loves Beyoncé and will show you a photo of her exclaiming how she misses Destiny’s Child.

As you move on, the exhibit begins to look at AI’s real-life application in fields such as healthcare, journalism and retail.

Affectiva, the leader in Human Perception AI, demonstrates how AI can improve road safety and the transportation experience through a driving arcade game. AI tracks drivers’ emotions and reactions as they encounter different situations. It then addresses some really important ethical issues such as bias, control, truth and privacy.

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What a Loving and Beautiful World’ by teamLab is visually stunning

Scientist, activist and founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, Joy Buolamwini, examines racial and gender bias in facial analysis software. As a graduate student, Joy found an AI system detected her better when she was wearing a white mask, prompting her research project Gender Shades. She found that facial analysis technology AI has a heavy bias towards white males.

Each of these artworks and pieces of technology is fun to play with but there is a huge lack of descriptions and context.

We found ourselves wandering from section to section a little lost and unsure what to do. And then once we were playing a game or interacting with an artificial intelligence, we didn’t know what it all meant and why it was important.

This was also the case in the very last section, located down in The Pit. You walk into a dark room with large screens located all around the space. They are showing moving images of trees, butterflies, wind and water all the while Chinese characters float down to the ground.

You’re meant to use your shadow to interact with the screens, touching each character to make the story and world change. But we were just very confused, touching some characters and seeing no change, struggling to see what we were getting out of it.

AI: More than Human is an unprecedented survey of creative and scientific developments in artificial intelligence, exploring the evolution of the relationship between humans and technology. We just wish we could have gone through the entire experience with a better understanding of what we were doing.

The new interactive AI: More than Human exhibition runs until 26 August at the Barbican Centre