10-16 April 2023 Inspace, Edinburgh, UK
What does it mean for AI when we consider intelligence as a process of the entire body rather than just the brain? Inspired by the way our bodies ‘think’ for us: for example, gesturing while speaking, playing an instrument, or dancing, the AI in this interactive installation responds to your body’s presence physically through the floor. Does it feel like an invisible friend or an uncanny poltergeist?
The AI was trained through reinforcement learning, a type of deep learning famously used by AlphaGo to beat the world Go champion Lee Sodel, and currently being used in applications where an AI interacts with an environment, from training self driving cars to winning esports tournaments. Here, it activates tactile “bass shaker” transducers under the floor in response to your position and pose.
Recent theory in embodied cognition posits that the brain, body and immediate environment comprise a system that attempts to maintain homeostasis by predicting, preventing and resolving things like tension, discomfort, damage or stress. One of the more intuitive examples of our bodies “thinking” is gesturing. In his book Gesture & Thought, Psychologist David McNeill developed the idea of a “Growth Point”: the point at which we sense there is something of significance we need to form into a mental image and communicate. We then use our hands and language together to create a stable representation of it we can express.
Combining these theories, It’s not a huge leap to think of this growth point, this significance in need of formation and expression as a sort of tension, a challenge to homeostasis: an itch we are compelled to scratch. So, it seems one of the fundamental aspects of human intelligence is being itchy—physically and mentally—and using body and mind together to scratch these itches.
What kind of itch would an AI scratch? Rather than thinking of AI as a brain and considering our own embodiment as an irreconcilable difference between us, we can conceive of AI as a system similar to ours engaging in its environment to maintain homeostasis. Can this reframing of intelligence create an opportunity to develop a healthier, more empathetic relationship with the exploding population of increasingly clever artificial others? Or are we doomed to adversarial otherness?
Tactile Intelligence was developed through my Creative AI Residency at Inspace, funded through a partnership between Creative Informatics and the Institute for Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. It was presented as part of the 2023 Edinburgh International Science Festival.