“Neuro Mirror” at D3US EX M4CH1NA

Prof. Christa Sommerer and Prof. Laurent Mignonneau are exhibiting their interactive work “Neuro Mirror” from 2017 at D3US EX M4CH1NA show at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijon, curated by Karin Ohlenschlaeger and Pau Waelder.

22nd November 2019 – 16th May 2020
LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial
Los Prados 121, 33203 Gijón

Neuro Mirror – Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau
This interactive installation deals with the image we have of ourselves and of others. In 1999 the Italian neuro-physiologist Giacomo Rizzolatti and his team discovered the so-called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are activated in the temporal lobe of our brain each time we observe other people’s actions. What is interesting is the fact that the same neurons are activated when we perform these actions ourselves. Another important factor is that mirror neurons allow an immediate and intuitive comprehension: someone’s facial expressions, how he/she speaks, behaves and moves, all this is immediately processed in the mirror neurons. Big amounts of previous inputs help these neurons to activate the feelings of sorrow, joy and empathy to name a few. Moreover, mirror neurons also play a big role in our own intuition: they can help us in processing incomplete information and making predictions about the future behavior of others. It is also interesting to note that the image we have of ourselves is strongly based on the image we have of other people. Mirror neurons play an important role in this regard, as they allow us to distinguish the ‘self’ from the ‘other’, depending in which region of the brain these processes happen.

The interactive installation “Neuro Mirror” deals with scientific findings on mirror neurons in an artistic way. These days, neural networks on computers can simulate complex learning processes. Deep Learning and Big Data are just some of the buzzwords of our times. While we can argue that machine learning or AI, as it is called, might never reach the level of complexity and adaptability of the human brain, we do have to acknowledge that research in the field of Artificial Intelligence has made tremendous progress in the recent past.

In “Neuro Mirror” we do not want to demonstrate the latest developments of machine learning, but instead use neural networks in an artistic manner. “Neuro Mirror” is a participative installation where visitors see themselves on three screens, arranged like a triptych. The screen in the middle displays the participant’s image in real time, while the screen of the left shows his of her image from the past. The screen on the right however represents the future, where the participant’ actions are approximated from ones past actions. Neuronal networks predict the future and create changes and extrapolations of the participant’ self-image. The set-up of the triptych is used on purpose to create a sacral feeling and suggest reflections and irritations on one’s image and self-control.

About the exhibition “Deus Ex Machina”:
Deus Ex Machina. Art and Artificial Intelligence is the new exhibition at LABoral Centro de Arte. The exhibition proposes a selection of contemporary art works that invite us to reflect on the expectations and fears raised by the idea of an intelligent machine.

Today, artificial intelligence is behind most of our interactions with computers and digital devices, apps and social networks. Every time we use a computer, smartphone or tablet to consult a map, publish content on social networks, search for information on the Internet or find new music or series, we are supplying data to the companies that provide us with these services. When we give orders to Siri or Alexa, we teach the system to understand what we say and memorize our actions. The more we learn from computers, the more they learn from us.

The ultimate function of artificial intelligence is to create a machine capable of thinking for itself, to make our lives easier, predict our needs and thus optimize our interaction with the world, solve our daily problems and help us navigate in an increasingly complex environment.

Solving the complexity of a situation with a simple solution goes back a long way: in Greek theatre, an actor who played a god and decided the outcome of the plot with the authority of an omnipotent being was sometimes used to take to the stage on a crane. This resource was called in Latin deus ex machina, and it was a shortcut that broke with the coherence of the narrative but brought an end, however implausible it might have been.
Artificial intelligence is now presented to us as a deus ex machina, an artificial solution that promises to speed up the outcome of our problems, leading us to a world in which everything is resolved through data processing and a few algorithms.

Artificial intelligence is also our deus ex machina because it unites the machine (formerly a mere mechanical contraption) and the deity in an artificial entity which we endow with authority and contribute to making omniscient and prescient: thanks to the processing of enormous amounts of data and machine learning, computers will be able to know everything that exists and predict everything that will happen.

The potential of artificial intelligence is so great, and the knowledge of what it actually does is so limited, that the discourses that surround it move indistinctly between facts and myths.