(Ornamental Hands, Figure Three by Jennifer Crupi)
Alan Turing changed history.
By helping to crack the German Enigma Code, he enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several key battles, making what Winston Churchill felt was the single biggest contribution to the war effort. Turing, a British mathematician, logician, mathematical biologist, computer scientist and cryptanalyst - played by the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game (November 2014) - felt it wouldn't be long before computers could communicate as intelligently as humans. He wrote a paper in 1950 entitled Computing Machinery and Intelligence in which he pondered the question of whether it was imaginable that a digital computer could eventually communicate via text in natural language so convincingly as to fool a human judge and actually pass for human. (images: source & source)
Imitating written human communication well enough to pass the Turing Test is considered a key benchmark for determining how quickly the machines are gaining on us. Turing once predicted that by the year 2000, “an average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning.”
A computer program chatbot called Eugene recently made headlines for convincing 10 out of 30 judges from the Royal Society that he was actually a 13 year old boy from the Ukraine who spoke English as a second language. However, the fact that 2/3 of the judges weren't fooled by Eugene's strange use of non-sequiturs and stilted sentences isn't surprising; after all, intelligence that is artificial is just that because it's attempting to mimick - to imitate - the real thing. Which is fiendishly complex. "The problem for poor Eugene is that the range and complexity of human conversations are so vast and so nuanced that no artificial intelligence can yet truly pass the Turing Test," observes Jamie Bartlett, Director for the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media. "But we humans should not be too complacent – because artificial intelligence is getting better all the time because there is now so much to feed Eugene with. On social media sites, millions of us are constantly having public conversations: debating, joking, discussing. This is all gold dust to artificial intelligence makers, who can hoover them all up, and feed them into the AI’s algorithm, which learns more and more rules and examples to follow. So no, Eugene didn’t quite pass the Turing test. But he’s only 13, remember. I think he will before his 21st birthday." (image)
Indeed Google's Director of Engineering certainly agrees. 2045, predicts Ray Kurzweil, will probably be when artificial intelligence exceeds human intellectual capacity and control and irrevocably changes - or even ends - civilization in an event called the Singularity. “By the end of this decade," he writes in The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, "computers will disappear as distinct physical objects, with displays built in our eyeglasses, and electronics woven in our clothing, providing full-immersion visual virtual reality.” And in How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, he explains why he thinks it inevitable that machine will surpass man. “Electronic circuits are millions of times faster than our biological circuits. At first we will have to devote all of this speed increase to compensating for the relative lack of parallelism in our computers, but ultimately the digital neocortex will be much faster than the biological variety and will only continue to increase in speed.” (illustration by Yonatan Popper)
Does this make you nervous? Me, too. Artist Jennifer Crupi, as well. Although the metalsmith may not say so directly, her striking "gesture jewelry" certainly tells a visual tale rife with warning. "My artwork addresses the way we communicate with each other visually, through body language," she explains about her handcrafted prosthetic contraptions which highlight various body postures and their associated meanings. She hopes "viewers will realize the importance of how our bodies speak for us."
But more than body language, her work immediately brought to mind for me the melding of machine with man and how simultaneously awkward and beautiful this Frankenstein'ing of the body is. Ornamental Hands (above) was inspired by hand gestures in classic painting throughout the centuries; it uses braces and chains in a "splint-like aesthetic" to control the hand like you would a marionette and position it accordingly. And it is the gesture that this play on precious jewelry is what Crupi considers "the real decorative ornament." Which I thought fascinating. Not the robot-reminiscent exoskeleton/jewelry but the gesture itself.
Which goes far beyond just adorning the skin one is in.
The Singularity...it's a-comin' - ready or not. Good thing artists like Crupi are experimenting with how it could look and feel. Approaching technology with a desire to make it fashionable is a signature of the Futurenetic Fashion Tribe. For more of my posts and podcasts about this tribe, CLICK HERE. To learn more about each of fashion's four mega-tribes that I track, START HERE.
- Lesley Scott
(Huge hat tip to Fashioning Tech, where I first read about Jennifer Crupi's work.)