'AI: More Than Human' Is A Mindblowing Show

'AI: More Than Human' Is A Mindblowing Show
March 29, 2019
AI: More Than Human, Lawrence Lek’s 2065, courtesy of the artist


This interactive Barbican exhibition will explore the terrifying and beautiful relationship between humans and artificial intelligence.


“Alexa, play Auld Lang Syne.” An annual joke amongst me and my group of friends when one New Year’s Eve descended into madness as we shouted endless song requests into the virtual assistant pod when a pal was gifted it for Christmas.


There’s no denying it. Technology’s presence and intervention in our day-to-day lives is becoming so increasingly commonplace, and shows like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror only serve to heighten our fears and insecurities at our increasing reliance on tech.


And when it comes to artificial intelligence, there is an endless wealth of fear propaganda, sensationalised by that iconic impossible-to-extinguish red eye on Arnie in the Terminator films.


And now, this May, the Barbican in London will be opening its doors to a major new exhibition: AI: More than Human, which will look at the evolving relationship between humans and technology.


Telling the rapidly developing story of AI, the exhibition will include immersive installations, allowing visitors to directly interact while exploring what it means to be human, as well as other themes such as consciousness and dependancy.


One of the contributors is Matt Pyke of Universal Everything, whose studio’s previous projects have included virtual reality, “weather installations” at fashion shows (giving the appearance of a snow storm whipping around models at Christopher Raeburn), digital sculptures, and even 360° wall projections (where a monster stomps around the room).


For the Barbican, he has created a large-scale installation where your reflection learns from your movements, eventually evolving in front of you. Terrifying stuff.


We talked to Matt about Stanley Kubrick, human behaviour and how his work has brought about emotive responses…

AI: More Than Human Mimic (concept), 2018 by Universal Everything, Image courtesy of Universal Everything


How would you describe your work?

The studio is a digital art and design collective, creating original artworks and brand collaborations. Our work spans video, sound, installation and architecture.


Can you explain how your interest in AI came about?

Growing up in the 1980s, “What are you doing Dave?” from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was a recurring phrase in my head.


How did you start your career?

I started as a graphic designer for the music industry, during the birth of the electronic music scene, designing sleeves for Warp Records and directing music videos. I started my own studio Universal Everything in 2004 to pursue self-initiated projects and design commissions for the emerging display technologies of the time, from mobile to architectural video walls. Now we are a collective which evolves from 3 people to 30 people depending on the ambition of the project.


Which installation are you bringing to this Barbican exhibition, or have you created something new?

We are bringing a new interactive installation called “Future You.” You are faced with a unique reflection of your potential, synthetic self. Starting as a primitive form, it learns from your movements to adapt and evolve, suggesting an agile, superior version of you. This artwork evolves, creating a new visual response for each visitor.


Alongside that we are screening Machine Learning, a series of futurist films exploring human-machine collaboration through performance and emerging technologies. It builds on the studio’s past experiments with motion studies, and asks: when will machines achieve human agility? 


What’s your favourite piece and why?

The favourite work is always our newest; we are striving to make something new and never seen before, everyday.


On your website it says Universal Everything is a “study of human behaviour on a mass scale” – what interests you about this?

We are interested in how the human and living forms can be represented through the eyes of today’s technology – from the movement of a single figure tracked using motion capture, to a simulation of a crowd of thousands revealing collective patterns of human behaviour.

You’ve used dance performances and botanical influences in your art – can you talk about this?

We strive to find links between mathematics and nature, between figurative and abstract form, and creating emotional technological experiences with a soul.


Your audience’s participation is actually needed to make your art work – what interests you about this symbiosis?

We love the idea that the work would not exist without the presence of the visitor. They become part of the experience, unique to each person.


How do you want people to feel when they come away from your exhibitions?

That they have witnessed a possible future.


What’s the best or most interesting piece of feedback you’ve had about your art?

At our current digital installation “Vehicle of Nature,” part of the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition, a digital river flows across the floor of the gallery. A mother who was visiting with her autistic child told me the installation had inspired him to speak for the first time in months.


Why do you think our interest with AI has increased so much in the recent past years?

AI is becoming visible in our everyday lives, thanks to Alexa, Siri, OK Google and Cortana. Now we have a human-like relationship we can see the flaws, inadequacies and future potential of AI firsthand.


How do you feel about people vilifying AI or lauding it as the future?

Perhaps it is history repeating itself. People naturally fear the new and the unknown – from luddites reacting to the industrial revolution 


What’s next for you? What are you working on next?

We are developing some large scale video art for public screens which evolve every minute, every day – always reinventing itself, forever.

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