Navigating a hallucinating AI with the intuitions of the body

Newsletter on 29 November 2021

How does the intelligence of the body help us work with AI? Last Saturday I tested out a prototype for a new interactive installation that allows someone to navigate the huge terrain of a generative AI Model through movements of the whole body.

Much of my work with physical interaction is prompted by a sense of what is lost when the wildness of the human body meets the precise design of the computer. Digital interaction tends to happen on an abstract plane of virtual objects existing in virtual spaces. Images and text are organised into posts on social media sites or into documents on operating systems. In contrast, with Movement Alphabet, I worked with the dance artist Jan-Ming Lee to create an alternative digital representation of a person: generative movement portraits sketched by the physical personality ingrained within each visitor's moving body.

The work-in-progress installation in today's video (working title: Latent Voyage) speculates in a similar vein on the potential of the body in a digital landscape. It is constructed of two AI models working together: one trained on recordings of my moving body, which forms an analysis which then drives a generative GAN model trained on tens of thousands of photos I've taken over my life. It lets you explore this space of hallucinatory images with the pose of your body.

These AI models are described as 'black box' because they don't lend themselves to a reductive explanation for how exactly they transform input (the body) into output (an image). The same pose will create the same image but intellectual analysis won't tell you why. There is rhyme but not reason. My hypothesis is that you can nonetheless find agency by releasing into the knowledge of the body.

When we learn to ride a bike, swim or play an instrument, we experience of our ability to understand through intellect and reason. We instead learn by doing and exploring, drawing on our embodied intelligence: muscle memory, intuition, experience. For me, the significance of this distinction goes beyond the utility of leveraging the body's intelligence to navigate an AI model. Embodied thinking is central to much of what makes us human, including empathy and a sense of social belonging. My deeper aim is to explore approaches to digital interaction built more on resonance and belonging rather than manipulation and abstraction.

If you'd like to come and try out the work then fingers-crossed I'm planning a public sharing at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow towards the end of January. Covid may foil these plans once more so watch this space.

Beyond Glasgow, drop me line if you'd like to chat about hosting future developments at a festival or venue.


Glasgow, 30 Nov 2021