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AI: More than human at the Barbican Centre

The Young Londoner visits AI: More than Human at the Barbican and is very much impressed by new technology, robots and art.

AI: More than human is dotted around the Barbican Centre and explores creative and scientific developments in AI. The exhibition takes you on an enlightening, inspiring (and at times frightening) journey into the world of artificial intelligence.

Bringing together exceptional collaborative work of artists, scientists and researchers, the exhibition gives visitors of all ages the opportunity to directly interact, learn and engage with AI in various shapes and forms.

AI: More than Human, Barbican Centre, 16May-26 August 2019
Alter 3 © Hiroshi Ishiguro, Takashi Ikegami and Itsuki Doi
Photo Credit: Sharron Wallace

It’s an extraordinary experience which left this writer and her two year old feeling elated and excited (but also slightly anxious and fearful). We were particularly impressed by the half prosthetic and half machine robotic creature, Alter 3, its ladylike features moved as if dancing. It fixed us with its robotic gaze whilst it tapped its fingers melodiously. That was a pretty spine tingling moment! My two year old switched between waving frantically at the machine to quivering in fear and asking for his mummy – but he was very curious and kept coming back to explore it some more (albeit keeping a safe distance).

We had a lot of fun getting close and personal in our interactions with Sony’s robot puppy Aibo. Apparently this robot has developed a specific personality from its database of memories and we were overjoyed to stroke, patt and play with a ball with it. Little man loved that the robot responded to him and even copied him when he was barking, which was amusing to watch and kept us busy for some time. We entertained a small audience for for a little while in this way.

AI: More than Human, Barbican Centre, 16 May-26 August 2019
Kreyon City © Sony CSL

Next up was playing with lego at Kreyon City and it took on new meaning as a computer advised us on how to build the ideal metropolis and strike a harmony between jobs, housing and green spaces – this is primarily designed for people who are a somewhat taller than my son (I had to do some heavy lifting in this one!).

The fun and playful parts of the exhibition are balanced with the darker side of AI and autonomous weapons fall firmy within this ominous arena. They are something that my little one is too young to currently understand and something I believe should remain in sci fi TV shows like Black Mirror (there is in fact a petition you can sign to stop the development of these).

Fortunately I didn’t have too much time to dwell as my toddler enjoyed testing out a Microsoft driving video game. He enjoyed steering the car and the staff were very patient in showing him how to reset the vehicle (he seemed to be crashing it a lot) so whilst he was busy I got to play around with PoemPortraits where Es Devlin invites visitors to donate a single word to a photo booth installation, which then turns it into a two-line poem generated by an AI. You can even take away a unique memento with your own PoemPortrait. I choose a few different words. I like words a lot and wanted to see what the AI would come up with. What word would you choose? Or will you make up a word to see how the machine will interpret this?

The exhibition also reflects on how AI technology impacts on our very existence and juxtaposes cutting edge research projects by DeepMind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Neri Oxman with artwork, creative depictions and installations by artists including the musical masterminds Massive Attack and teamLab (an interdisciplinary group of ultra technologists based in Singapore whose practice combines science, technology, design and the natural world.) The whole exhibition is perfectly balanced and has lots of different aspects to enjoy, reflect and learn from.

We thoroughly savoured spending some reflective moments wandering around the theatre (in the bowels of the Barbican) admiring the installation by teamLab. Beautiful changing projections depict waterfalls, butterflies, rain and snow on each wall. These combined with mellow music interact with the user – so you are both participant and observer at the same time.

We loved this part of the exhibition as we got in there early and were the only people there. The toddler could run around, sit, crawl and touch whatever he wanted. We left feeling elated.

There is loads more to see and do at AI:being human, the exhibition highlights that AI is no longer the work of science fiction writers but very much in the here and now. AI can and will change our lives, the potential is huge. But writing about this exhibition hardly does it justice, it’s being there and interacting with the various artificial intelligence that will really have a lasting impact on you – the curators have managed to distil a complex subject into something interesting and fun for the whole family. The exhibition is on until August 26th and tickets can be booked here.

There are also a host of events taking place at the barbican to complement the exhibition.