Episode 2: Not So Artificial Intelligence

PRNT SCRN

Episode 2: Not So Artificial Intelligence

By Dorothy Santos November 28, 2018

PRNT SCRN is a podcast hosted by Dorothy R. Santos about bridging the gaps between analog, new media, and digital art practices.


One of the most memorable 2018 Super Bowl television commercials speculated on the loss of Alexa’s voice. At first, the viewer watches a woman at home, commanding the Amazon artificial-intelligence device to provide information. But the woman is surprised when the automaton belts out a cough and goes silent. Back at Amazon headquarters, the Alexa team reassures CEO Jeff Bezos of the backup plan, which entails the use of celebrities such as Gordon Ramsey and Cardi B to fill in for Alexa. Consumers requesting Alexa’s assistance are met with a slew of comical responses. The commercial aims to show the inadequacy and unpredictably of the human as a machine. In this episode, “Not So Artificial Intelligence,” I examine the ways in which assistive technology has become a new terrain for artists like Trisha Baga, Stephanie Dinkins, and Cara deFabio. Each artist has incorporated the use of assistive technology to explore human emotional labor as well as the slippery nature of language. For instance, in deFabio’s performance, Virtual Girlfriend (2017), the artist conducted extensive research on the crowdsourced labor of providing digital companionship to strangers around the world. Baga, meanwhile, examines what might happen when we develop an intimate relationship with a virtual assistant, in her work Mollusca & The Pelvic Floor (2018). The essay titled "Telegraphy’s Corporeal Fictions," by the scholar Katherine Stubb, is a point of departure for the episode. Stubb’s work centered on phone operators, who were often women, as the providers of both connectivity and emotional support to the listener.

Further Reading
"Men Explain Blockchain to Me" by Cara Rose DeFabio

Cara Rose DeFabio lives in her hometown of San Francisco, where she writes about Internet trends, makes performances about technology, and produces conferences and events that bring people closer together. She is an Instagram ethnographer, an emoji expert, a cultural strategist, a curator, and—in the least pretentious and most humble way possible—a futurist. Raised in San Francisco during the dot-com boom of the 1990s and trained as a dancer, DeFabio in her theater work explores embodiment in the age of technology. Beginning in 2012 with She Was a Computer, DeFabio looked at how female identity and feminism have been shaped by a century’s worth of gadgets, from the telephone to the hair dryer. Her work After the Tone examined how technology has changed the way we mourn and asked how we can heal if we can’t forget. Darknet took the audience on a journey through the onion router to address questions about anonymity, privacy, and lawlessness in the digital age. Most recently, Virtual Girlfriend used Tumblr porn, 1-900 numbers, and live duets with Alexa to tell the story of a love affair with a mechanical-Turk girlfriend and to examine the intimate relationships we have with our phones.

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