hardware almost feels real
The new perspectives entailed by technological innovations often come with an amnesia in terms of their background and becoming. Today, when we think of hardware, we think of its obsolescence rather than its necessity. Within our technologically entangled world, we need physical storage: ubiquitous cloud computing solutions are imagined as disembodied and ephemeral, while they can only be instantiated through the existence of servers and data centres. As a metaphor, the necessary physical parts of technology help to imagine AI and its close entanglements to the physical world: Is it hovering around like some disembodied concept of artificial consciousness? Why can’t we stop mystifying AI, comparing it to dreams or thoughts, assigning it to some ‘virtual’ sphere? Why does it seem to threaten us intellectually but not physically? Is it necessarily in opposition to the human?
With this choice of title, we as curators exposed ourselves to that intellectual threat. The title resulted from feeding our ideas into a simple text generator. The inherent poetry of random word combinations struck us as a creative gesture – it even illustrated our initial feeling better. At first, this is only a story about playing with technology and our perception of its output. But it also unfolds as the ever-recurring narrative of competing for creativity with AI. Accepting one of the suggestions becomes a metaphor for the proximity of humans and AI in creative processes, an area often assigned only to humans. The assumed boundary becomes blurry as technologies manifestly become part of our decision-making processes, even their immaterial elements are present as part of our reality as we begin to embody them. Physical bodies conjoin with technologies, technologies permeate our bodies.
The works of this exhibition stretch and test these assumed distinctions in various ways: Stories are affected by the way a person tells them, but also by the way a neural network connects their parts. There can be mutual learning from what an AI selects depending on our preferences, while we might choose the sources for an AI’s training, thus shaping it. Even apart from processes of selection, sorting, or the other tasks AI is trained for, coalescences can be perceived. How can we delineate the other from the known, the natural from the artificial? All of the art projects on show present the proximity of what we might describe as real and virtual, how AI can grow into bodies, and how those things we perceive and fear in an intellectual and virtual sphere are actually permeating the physical.
With hardware almost feels real, The Real Office presents an online exhibition of six contemporary artistic positions on AI. The exhibition is part of the supporting program of the KI-Camp 2021, the transdisciplinary research convention of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), and the German Informatics Society (GI). While the discussions and workshops aim for a more concrete and mutual understanding of AI in various fields, the exhibition investigates feelings and uncertainties concerning this technology. Several artworks were commissioned during the interdisciplinary encounters of KI-Camp: the projects by Hana Yoo and Portrait XO are featured in the section “KI-Camp commissions”. The final piece by Portrait XO will only be available after April 27, as it is being developed from a collection of sounds from KI-Camp.