If you’re a sci-fi adept, you probably believe that singularity is drawing near. Predictions vary though; sci-fi writer Vernor Vinge thinks it will occur in 2030, whereas futurist Ray Kurzweil estimates we have until 2045 until AI will exceed human intelligence. At least until that time, we’ll still be in control. And if we do allow technology to take control over our body or mind, it’s always out of our own free will and in a completely human controlled environment.
The prospect of a Hal 9000 refusing to open the proverbial pod bay doors (“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”) is making some of us –yours truly included– feel rather existential. We know that technology is already taking over parts of our lives. We all have friends who knowingly and willingly allow their consciousness to be permanently plugged into their phones. The blessings of social media may be manifold, but it also seems to hold us hostage in a very un-social state of numb.
The following five interactive stories investigate the fading boundaries between us and machines. Let go of your ego and allow these projects to take over for a while to manipulate your body and mind. Don’t worry about singularity, for now; there are real humans behind every one of these projects.
This interactive documentary by the NFB reflects on the digital society and what sins it makes us commit. Likeable celebrities such as British comedian Bill Bailey tell us stories about the numbing effects of the flood of superficial Facebook campaigns tackling social causes (Release the snails!), YouTube binge watching, and Twitter addiction. But it also puts us to the test with some painful questions: ‘Are you a cyber bully? A Facebook friend hoarder? Or perhaps an online stalker?’
Created by Blast Theory and funded by Kickstarter, Karen is a new app that is capable of taking over your life. She is kind of like the operating system with the sultry voice of Scarlett Johansson in Spike Jonze’s sci-fi RomCom ‘Her’. Karen is your ‘life coach’, who friendly asks you detailed questions about your personal life. By doing so, it appears that she knows much more about you then she should, giving the coach-client relationship a creepy vibe. The app is currently in development. We can’t wait to try out our new best friend.
There’s an explosion in altered body and mind experiences thanks to virtual reality becoming more and more accessible. The last edition of the new media festival IDFA Doclab featured events and showcases of projects by pioneering artists, storytellers and filmmakers exploring the potential of virtual reality. One of those projects was The Machine to be Another created by BeAnotherLab. This is a fascinating experiment that allows you to experience what it’s like to be inside someone else’s skin. Two people wearing cameras and Oculus Rift headsets are instructed to touch their bodies in sync, as their goggles relay the feed of the other camera. Now it gets freaky. What you feel is your hands touching your body. But what you see is the body of ‘the other’. Body swap!
More of a “life swap” than a “body swap,” the intriguing project by Mark Farid, which launched on Kickstarter last November, is like an art performance and a social psychology experiment rolled into one. During 28 days non stop, Farid will be completely cut off from reality. He’ll be wearing an Oculus Rift headset plus earphones. As he’s going about his day in the gallery where the experiment is taking place, he’ll be experiencing other people’s lives through VR. During the experiment, the artist will be guided by psychologists, to prevent him from losing his mind. If that doesn’t freak you out, you can apply to be ‘the other’ in the experiment and donate your experiences. Here’s hoping Farid will go ahead with his fascinating experiment, even though the crowdfunding didn’t work out.
Artist Floris Kaayk, who caught the attention of the international news media with his Human Birdwings project in 2012, takes the notion of the body manipulation through (bio)technology much further. His upcoming online story ‘Modular Body’ will revolve around the fictitious scientist Cornelis Vlasman, who is developing an artificial, bio-engineered organism named Oscar. The interactive mockymentary remixes a huge collection of documentary material about artificially synthesized body parts, sewn together into new fantasy bodies. The project will be presented in 2015. More info (in Dutch) here.