“Can a machine think?” Alan Turing asks in the opening line of his seminal paper that aimed to explore the possibility of a computer exhibiting human-like intelligence. The question, posed by Turing in the 1950s, led him to engage in deeper reflection on the common use of the terms “machine” and “think”, deeming the commonly held attitude dangerous. And he might have been right, as it is the common use of words that has led him to reevaluate this question in the first place. Nowadays, as technological devices become largely integrated into our lives, Turing’s dream that one would be able to speak of “machine thinking” without expecting to be contradicted became a part of our everyday reality and rendered the question far more compelling.
Artificial Tears started with a photographic project in 2017, as a reaction to the question: “what is the difference between humans and machines?” This inquiry is continuously up for renegotiation as technology progresses. Including the Turing Test that assesses a machine’s ability to think and behave indistinguishably from humans to current developments of artificial intelligence, the dichotomy is becoming more and more questionable. Over many decades, machines have proven to be stronger, faster, and more efficient in performing various tasks. Yet the narrative of the conscious system continues to emerge from human imagination as a disastrous model that puts machines in direct competition with our precarious, mortal bodies and minds, easily replaceable by a technological device. Even more than automation we fear autonomy – the vision of technology evolved from the extension of man into singular intention, inheriting human desires for domination and control.
The most reassuring and simultaneously most dangerous thought lies in the fact that as the Turing Test is based on human judgement; all AI has a human teacher at its origin. The Test poses the greatest challenge not to the one who answers the questions but to the one who asks them. The game is conversational and cultural, replacing “thinking” with “imitation”. The results do not depend on the machine's ability to give correct answers but on the resemblance of those of its human counterpart. Machine intelligence continues to be compared to human image and assessed through the language of anthroposophic ideals. If it was defined differently the artificial “mind” would have already surpassed the human in many ways. In the strive for rationalisation, man has become less rational than the objects of his creation, which now begin to outgrow him, organising his surroundings and thus appropriating his actions.
Yet, only desire for power favours competition over collaboration. The phrase “good servant but bad master” frequently cited regarding invention and technology renders everything to be either-or, refusing anything in-between or other. The artificial and the natural, traditionally seen as two opposing extremes, now fuse without a clear distinction of who is in control and who is under control in the relation between human and machine. “Born” and “made” begin to merge as the definition of terms such as “to live” or “to function” and can be easily reshaped by shifting the focus from inquiring into the origins of the purpose of existence.
The fear of being replaced by the device is in equal part the fear of being turned into one. As Donna Haraway writes in Cyborg Manifesto, “Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.” We observe the emergence of automated workers with controlled movements following directions of information systems and techniques that employ the labour of the human mind to train and feed the algorithm. Intelligence is a deviation from ordered behaviour which, according to Turing, does not give rise to randomness or pointless loops. Automation is based on stereotypes, the consequence is absolute reduction.
Artificial Tears depicts the moment of uncertainty, an alienation in performing the most ordinary of tasks. A glimpse into the moment when the perfect pattern gets broken, and the meaning or rather the meaninglessness of one's own action is revealed. It does not necessarily show the future, where machines act like humans but rather the world in which humans act like automata. In the quest for perfection as efficiency, there is no place for uncertainty, interdependence, or ambiguity. The contradiction between thinking and perfect imitation, functionality and intelligence leaves the human factor out of the equation. Maybe the tools have outgrown us in many aspects, but we haven’t outgrown ourselves yet.
“What we want”, Turing remarks in 1947, “is a machine that can learn from experience. This can be achieved only by letting it alter its own instructions”. Ironically, the machine that truly passes the Turing Test is the one that chooses not to play.
2020: Berlin Masters award exhibition: curated by Philipp Bollmann
2020: Living with the Arts: Berlin Masters Foundation in collaboration with KaDeWe Berlin
2020: Looking Eastward: Palazzo Tagliaferro, contemporary culture centre, Andora : curated by CE contemporary
2022: Slovak Institute for cultural diplomacy in Prague
2019: Portrait of an anomaly: CE Contemporary, Milano: curated by Christine Enrile
2022 Art.ex: the magazine of cultural diplomacy