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Thought-provoking new exhibition suggests the public should help shape the future of AI

By Aniko Ekart - Professor of Computer Science, Aston University (Special to Black Headline News)

Humans have made tools for at least 2.6 million years. And we’ve always been curious, not just copying others but seeking to understand how their tools work, why and what else can be done with them. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a 21st-century tool, similar to the breakthrough that rocks were to our Stone Age ancestors. Only AI is advancing much faster.

Those who learn to harness it will have opportunities to thrive, while those who do not are likely to be left behind. AI evokes mixed feelings. There’s excitement about its potential, but also fear of the destructive uses it might be harnessed for.

To ensure a good future with AI, it’s essential that appropriate regulation is introduced. And the public must be fully involved in decisions around its development and implementation – as a new exhibition at King’s College London’s Science Gallery explores.

Created in collaboration with cultural program Future Everything, the exhibition presents serious questions about AI in a playful manner. According to Irini Papadimitriou, Future Everything’s creative director, one of those key questions, especially regarding AI’s use in healthcare, is: “What is the bridge between research and consumers?”

The exhibition prompts people to contemplate the question in its title (AI: Who’s Looking After Me?) and to contribute to shaping AI collectively.

Siddharth Khajuria, director of Science Gallery London, told me: “We try to nurture space for collaborations between unlikely communities of scientists, artists, patients, technologists and many others, trusting that the ‘knowledge’ they produce … would not have come from any single perspective.”

What to expect at the exhibition

The exhibition is intended to be an eyeopener about AI, through its showcasing of unusual applications of the technology. These applications are presented through installations that encourage contemplation and curiosity.

Visitors are welcomed by Sprout – a soft, huggable robot inspired by nature. Sprout is designed to respond to human behavior through movement and color changes. Another exhibit appealing to the emotions is Looking For Love, a playful internet café-style chat experience, where visitors can attempt to teach the machine about love.

The installations Heartificial Intelligence, How Loud Is Too Loud? and Does AI Care? explore the use of AI in healthcare and how the tool could support medical professionals, rather than replace them.

Several installations explore the social interactions between people and AI. The Future is Here! raises awareness of how critical human labor is for tagging data sets, as this makes supervised machine learning possible. What is Essence? showcases how a machine “sees” humans, via AI-generated images of people. It draws attention to potential algorithmic bias.

Sentient Beings reflects on our future interactions with AI assistants while Autonomous Trap 001 explores the potential of human-machine collaboration and freeing AI from large corporations. Newly Forgotten Technologies meanwhile prompts reflection on the environmental impact of smart devices.

Between the Lines is an unusual artwork. It came about following conversations with international students who were being reported to the Home Office by their universities for not following strict rules during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It draws attention to the disconnect between people and those who make decisions about them. Testimonies of these detained people are encoded into synthetic DNA, which is made into ink and inserted into pens to be distributed to UK immigration control.

Cat Royale by Blast Theory explores a future in which AI is more prevalent in the home, with roles such as taking care of cats.

A video installation shows three cats living – apparently comfortably – in an environment with an AI-enabled robotic arm. The cats initially ignore the robot arm, but over time they begin to play with it. The robot learns how to entertain the individual cats according to their preferences.

The artist, Matt Adams, told me that when it comes to AI, “trust and lack of trust exist at the same time”. Visitors are invited to reflect on the implications of employing a robot cat sitter and ultimately decide whether they would trust a robot with their own pet.

The AI: Who’s Looking After Me exhibition also includes an area with books, toolkits and activities. It is accompanied by a program of talks, tours, workshops and performances which are worth planning a visit around. The Science Gallery is inviting the public to help shape the ways AI might one day permeate our day-to-day lives.

AI: Who’s Looking After Me is at the Science Gallery London until 20 January 2024.

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