Inspired by the recently opened exhibition ‘Uncanny Valley. Being human in the age of AI’ at the De Young museum in San Francisco, I had the chance to take a moment to reflect on where I’m are heading to as a human being part of the society.
Over the past two decades, artificial intelligence (AI) has redefined humans’ relationship with technology and their engagement with each other and the world. In this process, AI is reshaping the coordinates of the ‘Uncanny Valley’. It is no longer limited to the image of the human like robot or machine.
What is the Uncanny Valley?
In 1970, robotics expert Masahiro Mori introduced the idea of the Uncanny Valley as a graph charting the measure of people’s comfort level with human like machines. He mapped out a spectrum of emotional responses, based on the machine’s degree of resemblance and level of physical mobility, ranging from empathy to revulsion. Rendered as a curve with x and y coordinates, the zone of discomfort, triggered by near or too great a likeliness, appears as an expansive dip in the graph, hence the Moniker valley. Although Mori’s hypothesis has received critical scrutiny since its release, the term has endured as a widely used metaphor for a technologically induced terrain of existential uncertainty and threat.
The new Uncanny Valley is defined by the inscrutable calculations of algorithms designed to mine and analyze humans’ behavior and project it in to tradable futures.
It is occupied by the statistical data profiles of users, reflected back to them in a ceaseless visual montage of constantly updating prompts for social engagement, political advocacy, and e-commerce.
It is haunted by the addictive mechanisms of applications that aspire to anticipate humans’ every need while facilitating, and shaping, daily life and social interactions.
In the exhibition ‘Uncanny Valley’, you can find sculptures, installations, and prints varying from ‘Threat Model’ by Martine Syms, ‘Shadow Stalker’ by Lynn Hershman Leeson, ‘They took the faces from the accused and the dead’ by Trevor Paglen, ‘Aidol’ by Lawrence Lek, ‘Amazon work cage patent drawing as virtual King Island Brown Thornbill cage: System and method for transporting personnel within an active workspace, 2016’ by Simon Denny, ‘Model Zoo’ by Forensic architecture.
The exhibition gives fertile inspiration to reflect on the current reality of AI rather than futuristic fantasies or predictions. It builds on metaphors rooted in technological imagination – the digital alter ego, the data-mining algorithm, the model of swarm intelligence – to propose a new visual vocabulary for describing the relationship between humans and machines.
My take off at the exit of the exhibition?
Develop AI. Think human. Include people.