What is it to be human?
rAndom International, a studio based in London and Berlin, ponder upon our emotional reactions to machines. More than ever, machines participate in our daily lives facilitating communication, transportation and cultural exchanges all over the world. However, what the studio is investigating goes much deeper than just simple information and the speed of it. It is our behavior, our emotional responses to machines that simulate to understand us that fascinates this team of creators.
Darwin emphasized the importance of affection and empathy in human evolution, emotions helped our ancestors to better adapt when facing exterior hostilities by reinforcing coercive relations amongst us. Today, trust has become pivotal when building relations with other species, even with machines we construct intimate relationships as they mimic human attitudes. Some psychologists have even studied cases of soldiers who mourn bomb defusing robots and found that some soldiers are prepared to go further and risk their lives to save these programmed devices. Even though they know the robots are operated by them and lack any consciousness, they create bonds, going against all logic. Florian Ortkrass, one of the brains behind the studio, demonstrated his perplexity when he witnessed the spectators respond before pieces such as Audience: “subconsciously we are so gullible, we can very simply be convinced that the opposite is understanding us.” Reliance in other “perceptive” organisms or machines confirms Rousseau’s theory of human good nature, perhaps it is indeed society who is corrupting well intentioned individuals.
But how is this blind trust built? Upon which basis are we cementing our emotional responses? Inspired by the pioneering text – The Uncanny Valley – by roboticist Masahiro Mori, the studios’ pieces are assembled in a very peculiar way, for they don’t emulate human physiognomy. Mori described the uncanny valley as an afterthought, an eerie sensation provoked after looking at robots. To avoid this, he has suggested that roboticists concentrate on “non-human design” enhancing affinity and an emotional response to humans. 15 Points, one of the latest artworks presented at Pace Gallery London, examines the way our brain assesses information and how it produces coherence; 15 small light bulbs are animated in a such a way to deceive the eye. As we see the shape of a man walking, the question arises, are we so easily duped? With minimalist methods – mirrors, reflections and lights – the rAndom team gives birth to presumably simple structures originating empathy. Hannes Koch, the other brain behind the team, thinks simplicity is enough: “there is a celebration in reduction. (…) The interesting thing here is that’s enough for us to be fooled and to have an emotional and honest response.” Rain Room, one of the most acclaimed pieces done by rAndom showcased at the MoMA, Shanghai and L.A, simulates precipitation inside a room, yet when entering the rain area, sensors prevent viewers from getting wet. Even if the “architectural installation” reacts to stimuli, whimsical and aggressive actions can’t always be detected. This very aspect of technology, its imperfection, echoes a component of human nature, hence, the studio’s pieces reflect on human fragility. Additionally, viewer’s blissfulness becomes apparent once they enter the Rain Room as the impossible is transformed into possibility, technology’s invisible intervention transports us and oddly empowers viewers by giving them the power to stop rain.
In the wake of entangled technologies, scientists such as Stephen Hawking or Max Tegman have repeatedly warned us about the perils of artificial intelligence and autonomous conscious robots.
In the wake of entangled technologies, scientists such as Stephen Hawking or Max Tegman have repeatedly warned about the perils of artificial intelligence and autonomous conscious robots. Three years ago, a group of experts published an article regarding the power of technology, a growing force developing at the speed of light. Nevertheless, the wisdom and ethics of robotics hasn’t progressed as much as artificial intelligence, the gap separating them is massive. The studio team professedly researches on technologies in our lives and in the near future, as sharing platforms are redefining reality and immediacy, the consequences haven’t been properly seized and scrutinized. Blur Mirror, dwells on the morality of these actions, when the spectator approaches the piece, (constituted with a mirror) he sees his reflection blurred, disabling clear identification. This is what “virtuality” is doing to us, as it is deconstructing the perception of ourselves.
Furthermore, in the ongoing political climate, and after the devastating direction of these events, our discerning capacities are to be feared. rAndom designs are not as sophisticated as Assimo robots, but they keep creating emotions and bewildering us. Through their installations we become aware of our physicality. As they solicit our senses, they pull us out from lethargic states while, at the same time, posing essential questions about consciousness and partaking values. Transparency is praised, as it shows that maybe we should stop developing complex systems and focus more on expanding our consciousness, of a deeper inquiry as to what surrounds us, and on waking up from our autopilot existence to see what is escaping our enslaved eye and even our enslaved brain. Instead of developing the world around us, rAndom seems to prefer to expand an inner dimension that is repeatedly escaping us.