Culture Crossover: Highlights at the Barbican's AI: More Than Human

In our Culture Crossover series we pick up examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture. We'll be reviewing exhibitions, giving you a heads up on cultural events or talks coming up in the UK and highlighting the best techy art.

To read more instalments of Culture Crossover click here.

The Barbican's AI: More Than Human is a sprawling jumble of an exhibition encompassing an array of (sometimes only vaguely) AI-related artefacts that span the origins of ancient shintoism to the technologies butting up against the computational and theoretical limits of artificial intelligence today.

Unfortunately, the show lacks a central thread of continuity to cling to and consequently suffers from incoherence at points. Despite this, there were some interesting projects on display that we highlight below.


Marija Avramovic and Sam Twidale

© Marija Avramovic and Sam Twidale

This real-time unfolding animationwas one of the most artistically impressive works on display. Created by artists Marija Avramovic and Sam Twidale, it's one of the first pieces of the exhibition, tied in with the themes of animism and shintoism explored at the beginning.

These are both ancient religions originating in Japan which endow all animate and inanimate things with an essential spirit. It's because of this set of beliefs, academics say, that Japanese culture has been more accepting of the idea of robots than the historically fearful reaction of western cultures - because robots merely represent another embodiment of the same spirit.

In Sunshowers, this beautifully rendered world is populated by creatures controlled by their own AI systems that incorporate emotions and personality traits, and which evolve in response to their interactions with the environment and other creatures. However, the man-made and inanimate objects are also endowed their own form of intelligence, reflecting shintoist principles. The work is inspired by the 1990 Japanese magic realist film from Akira Kurosawa called Dream.

Daito Manabe + Kamitani Lab: dissonant imaginary

On this project,Tokyo-based digital artist Daito Manabe partnered with neuroscientist Yukiyasu Kamitani to explore the relationship between music, visualisation, and the associated brains states. The resulting technology, dubbed 'dissonant imagery' takes signals from the visual cortex and transforms them into new images that unspool in real time.

It uses a form of “brain decoding” which combines human brain activity patterns measured by fMRI, with added pattern recognition by machine learning. This work focuses in particular on the emotional weight that music can hold, and what feelings and memories it might trigger.

While a peek at the resulting work is on display at the Barbican, it will be debuted in full at the Sonar festival in Barcelona this year, taking the form of a live, AV tech show.

Digital Nature

The Digital Nature Groupat the University of Tsukuba, headed up by assistant professor Yoichi Ochiai, explores alternative futures that might emerge in a world of ubiquitous computing, where advanced computing is part of the everyday fabric of human existence. Digital Nature refers to this future, focused on the melding of human and computer intelligence, and virtual and material environments.

The group aims to apply understandings of this new world to emerging problems in industry, academia, and art. This necessitates overseeing shifting, overlapping areas including computer science, physics, biology, art and design. Visit the site to discover more about their work on protein computers and computational fields.

Kreyon City

The colourful, lego-constructed Kreyon City came out of a research project for Sony. Colour-coded and monitored by sensors, participants are challenged to construct a well-functioning town in miniature - assigning more or less density to industry, recreation or residential areas as they choose. The resulting outcomes, such as population numbers, energy consumption and pollution are then relayed, allowing them to fine tune the mini-metropolis.

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