Putting on a Face

We’re all aware, to whatever degree we’re interested, the day will come when AI will move beyond Alexa and we’ll actually have the pleasure of interacting in a more humanistic fashion with like-selves that are in fact, machines. For years now we’ve read books, watched television, and viewed movies where “human robots” act like human.

My gut tells me we will design these ‘creatures’ to look like humans, not the cutesy kid-centric robots from Star Wars’ C-3PO fame – we humans, being human, won’t feel comfortable speaking to a pile of wires and metal. Rather, we’ll want to interact with something similar to us in both appearance and demeanor. Think the Replicants of Blade Runner fame and the ever-curious mind of Philip K. Dick who said, “the electric things have their life too. Paltry as those lives are.”

What then will it take to make this a reality? More than just science. To properly replicate human interaction there’s a lot more involved than engineering. It will require contributions of fine artists capable of expressing the often-unexplainable elements that comprise the human condition.

A case in point is the work of Elizabeth King. Through education and training, King is a sculpturist. Her recent work, titled “Radical Small,” on exhibit at MASS MoCA, are sculptures that, I believe, are likely characteristic of the near-future face of human robotics.

King demonstrates this through miniaturizing her sculptures to that of puppet-like-sized people – from human-scale to a much smaller, more manageable size   to view, ponder, and discern one’s likeness to these inanimate objects. With her sculptures one is exposed to the minute intricacies that comprise the human condition – the details of a head’s openings, such as nostrils, mouth, eyes, and ears, that add up to one great mystery called ‘life.’ Every element distinct and in its place.

By reducing their size King immediately removes the possibility that she’s creating sculptures that are “life-like,” as they are not to scale that mirrors image of self. Hence, we don’t assume them to be a true reflection of our selves, instead they are objects to explore and compare to oneself. In doing so, we find they statically emit human expression through detailed styled nuance, i.e., they become us by removing the possibility that they are us. It’s a real coup. The ability to create holistic emotion through an assemblage of detailed technological functionality is a rare treat to witness.

Scientists and engineers will increasingly need to partner with artists such as King, capable of creating wonder beyond the present state of things, to “go beyond.” Denise Markonish, when reviewing the exhibition, stated “creating human likeness and animating the inanimate.” Through such partnerships with fine artists, technologists can successfully transpose the artificial into real intelligence, and in the process, develop a sense of ‘spirit’ – or as the ancient Greeks dubbed it, an ‘eidolon’, or spirit likeness of ourselves.


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