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Artificial Intelligence

Is artificial intelligence really intelligence? Why do we call it “artificial”? Human intelligence — what allows us to understand the world around us and the setting for our lives — is no longer exclusively human. It’s a hybrid, distributable intelligence made up of neurons and chips, memories and databases, imagination and computational prognostics, thoughts and algorithms. As we use artificial intelligence (AI) to understand our existence, the border between us and technology becomes blurrier and blurrier: where do we end, and where does AI start?

To what degree does AI resemble human intelligence? Is it really capable of learning? If so, how does it do it? Is it creative? Is it sustainable? We know that it can store much more data than our brain can, and that it can process it much quicker; is that why it knows the future better than we do? Can it make decisions without human participation? If so, should we be worried?
The exhibit “Artificial Intelligence” follows a path that begins with the first dreams of artificial intelligence. It analyses how the development of AI has been influenced by a range of different factors, including the anthropological aspects of ancient civilizations and human beings’ urge to experiment.
Humans have always been fascinated by the idea of creating artificial, living beings that are made in our image and that have special powers — be it using magic, science, religion or fiction. Over the ages, these ideas have been expressed in different ways by different civilizations. By giving life to beings that lack it, humans have explored their place in the world; sometimes this comes with a feeling of power, and other times it comes with the fear of a world beyond our control. The religious traditions of Judaism and Shintoism, the sciences of Arab alchemy and early mathematics, and gothic philosophy continue to influence our perception of modern technology.
The desire to use technology to re-create the workings of the brain began to give fruit in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the firm belief that rational thought could be formulated with a finite series of laws. During the 1940s, the desire to decipher the brain was overcome by the idea of imitating its operation. Inspired by the behaviour of neurons, scientists developed the first artificial neural network, a technology capable of learning on its own and surprising humans with its apparent creativity and its capacity to see, feel and move. This exhibit presents the evolution of computing, from the first calculating machines to the explosion of data at the start of the 21st century, with the birth of automatic learning and what we refer to as “deep learning”.
In addition, we look at how AI surrounds us, shaping our lives in both the private and public spheres through the media and the products we purchase. While we may be aware of some manifestations of AI, others remain hidden: interwoven into global systems that are so complex that they are impossible to fully understand. The growing proximity of AI carries with it a series of ethical questions. How will AI affect our privacy, freedom and truth? This section brings us closer to AI, emphasizing its most hidden uses and revealing a future that is both exciting and disturbing.
Finally, this exhibit opens the door to research, the transversality of the application of artificial intelligence and its fusion with other scientific and artistic disciplines. No aspect of life is free of its influence. One clear example is A-Life, an area of research that works with a much broader series of natural processes that include human and animal biology and environmental science. In this setting, our idea of what counts as “natural” is beginning to change. Organic life is not born static; as new body parts, environments and beings are created, it becomes more and more clear that our world is constantly changing.
AI helps us to define our future. It can carry us towards new ways of life — some recognizable, others not. This is both disheartening and liberating. It encourages us to consider a world where ours isn’t the only intelligence, a world where the possibilities of intelligence go beyond humans.
“Artificial Intelligence” presents new projects by international artists, scientists and researchers like Joy Buolamwini, Es Devlin, Mario Klingemann, Kode 9, Massive Attack, Lauren McCarthy, Yoichi Ochiai, Neri Oxman, Anna Ridler, Chris Salter, Sam Twidale and Marija Avramovic and Universal Everything, as well as local artists like Eduard Escoffet, Marina Herlop and Regina Giménez.

Original Exhibition curated and organised by the Barbican Centre. The City of London Corporation is the owner, founder and principal funder of the Barbican Centre. Co-produced by Forum Groningen, Netherlands. This version of the exhibition has been adapted in collaboration with the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC).


Local curator: Lluís Nacenta
Scientific advisor: Jordi Torres
Barbican guest curators: Suzanne Livingston and Maholo Uchida

Programme of activities