Film and media blog

Artificial intelligence has vast artistic value

05.12.2017 18:58:08

On the 28th of November, Tallinn University Centre of Excellence in Media Innovation and Digital Culture (MEDIT) hosted Dr Ellen Pearlman, a Fulbright World Learning specialist in New Media Art and Technology. The seminar focused on the latest achievements in cognitive technologies and neurosciences and opened a discussion about their impact on creative practices.

Ellen PearlmanBrain as an artist
Ellen Pearlman is a new media artist, critic, curator and writer who created Noor: A Brain Opera, the world’s first immersive interactive brain opera in a 360 degree theater.

As the story of Noor Inayat Khan, a British covert intelligence operative from World War II develops, the tale triggers different emotional responses with her brain waves transformed into colored bubbles on the screen.

It is a visual representation of what is going on in the performer’s head. In a brain opera, the audience is a part of the feedback process.” They interact with the performer inside the 360 theater through gaze, touch and motion and this contributes to the success of the show,” Pearlman explains.

The brain opera, among many other possibilities, has been the invention of the last few years. Today, it’s not hard to find aspects of life in which we depend on technology or even real-life cyborgs. For example, Neil Harbisson, who was born with color blindness and naturally sees only in grayscale. Now, he can „hear“ colors thanks to the antenna implanted in his skull (project „life with extra senses“). Or Moon Ribas, who can feel the earthquakes all over the world through implants in her arms and legs.

We like to be watched?
There is something revealing about „reading“ your emotions and showing it to others. „You can’t fake it, you can’t control it,“ says Ellen.

However, when discussing the case of Estonia, Ellen is amused and surprised at the same time. „Estonia has very good privacy laws and people truly believe they will not be monitored if they haven’t given the consent to authorities,“ she explains. „But that is not immanent for the people who live in a controlled society. It’s the society of consent,“ she says and adds that we are a small nation and the rest of the world doesn’t share our faith in technology.

A Brain OperaShe is certain that Estonians think technology is unexceptionally a good thing because we do not live in the state of control. „For example, the case is much different in China or in United Arab Emirates – countries, which don’t have privacy laws like Estonia’s,“ she explains, and is therefore certain that it’s naive to think that the whole world is going to have similar enthusiasm in new information technological achievements.

AI as the new arms race?
The developments in cognitive technologies and artificial intelligence could be thought of as a new type of arms race in which the world’s leading countries aim to be in the forefront, and are investing billions to achieve that aim.

China and the U.S are already funding research globally. And just like the rest of the world, Ellen is not sure where this race will lead. But given the dedication to this field, it will lead to something big. „Something that most of the society is not ready for yet,“ she is sure.

More and more, we give our lives in the hands of technology. But Ellen indicates that the US is porbably one of the few countries, that is undertaking research to deal with the probable consequences. For example, the AI Now Institute is examining the social implications of artificial intelligence. „There is a strong awareness among certain organizations about how fast AI will overtake many common decisions in fields of medicine, law, transportation, immigration or even hiring practices etc… There are some actions taken in China to implement control over these practices, but it’s secondary practice to finance the research that could estimate the dangers that AI will bring,“ she says.

The MEDIT seminar „Noor: A Brain Opera. Is There A Place In Human Consciousness Where Surveillance Cannot Go?“ took place on the 28th of November in Tallinn University. You can watch the video to get an idea what is going on on stage.

MEDIT seminars are invited speaker events organised by the Centre of Excellence in Media Innovation and Digital Culture (MEDIT). They will feature scholars from the Baltic Sea region and beyond who study media and Digital Technologies.

Interview by Kerli Onno

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