Highlights at the Barbican’s AI: More than human | Emerging tech & innovation | Techworld

In our Culture Crossover series we pick up examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture. We’ll be reviewing exhibitions, giving you a heads up on cultural events or talks coming up in the UK and highlighting the best techy art.

To read more instalments of Culture Crossover click here.

The Barbican’s AI: More Than Human is a sprawling jumble of an exhibition encompassing an array of AI-related ephemera that span the origins of ancient shintoism to the technologies butting up at the computational and theoretical limits of artificial intelligence today. 

Unfortunately the show lacks a central thread of continuity to adhere to and consequently suffers from incoherence at points. Despite this, there were some interesting projects that we have highlighted below. 


Marija Avramovic and Sam Twidale

© Marija Avramovic and Sam Twidale

This real-time unfolding animation was one of the most artistically impressive works on display. Created by artists Marija Avramovic and Sam Twidale, it’s one of the first pieces of the exhibition, tied in with the themes of animism and shintoism explored at the beginning.

These are both ancient religions originating in Japan which endow all animate and inanimate things with an essential spirit. It’s this set of beliefs which has led some academics to believe that Japanese culture has generally been more accepting of robots than the historically fearful response of western cultures – because they merely represent another embodiment of the same spirit. 

In Sunshowers, this beautifully rendered world is populated by creatures controlled by their own AI systems that incorporate emotions and personality traits, and which evolve in response to their interactions with the environment and other creatures. However, the man-made and inanimate objects are also endowed their own form of intelligence, reflecting shintoist principles. The work is inspired by the 1990 Japanese magic realist film from Akira Kurosawa called Dream. 

Daito Manabe + Kamitani Lab: dissonant imaginary

On this project, Tokyo-based digital artist Daito Manabe partnered with neuroscientist Yukiyasu Kamitani to explore the relationship between music, visualisation, and the corresponding brain states that listening to music elicit. The resulting technology, dubbed ‘dissonant imagery’ takes signals from the visual cortex and transforms them into new images that unspool in real time. 

It uses a form of “brain decoding” which combines human brain activity patterns measured by fMRI, with added pattern recognition by machine learning. This work focuses in particular on the emotional weight that music can hold, and what emotions and memories it might trigger. 

While a peek at the resulting work is on display at the Barbican, it will be debuted in full at the Sonar festival in Barcelona this year, taking the form of a live, AV tech show. 

Digital Nature 

The Digital Nature Group at the University of Tsukuba, headed up by assistant professor Yoichi Ochiai, explores alternative futures that may emerge in the world of ubiquitous computing, where advanced computing is part of the everyday fabric of human existence. Digital Nature refers to this future, focused on the melding of human and computer intelligence, and virtual and material environments. 

The group aims to apply understandings of this new world to emerging problems in industry, academia, and art. This necessitates overseeing shifting, overlapping areas including computer science, physics, biology, art and design. Visit the site to discover more about their work on protein computers and computational fields. 

Kreyon City 

The colourful, lego-constructed Kreyon City came out of a research project for Sony. Colour-coded and observed by sensors, participants are challenged to construct a well-functioning town in miniature – assigning more or less density to industry, recreation or residential areas as they choose. The resulting outcomes, such as population numbers, energy consumption and pollution are then relayed, allowing them to fine tune the mini-metropolis.