A.I.F.L. Residency Report


We tend to identify ourselves with the jobs we do. It is very common to ask “what do you do?” as a communication starter when you meet someone new. Jobs are not only something we do for living, but we define ourselves with it. The introduction of AI in our workplaces is often discussed with a slight anxiety. Is it going to abolish our jobs? Is it going to replace me in my work? Even with the promise of shorter work hours and eliminating manual labor nobody wants to do, with all the sustainability and economic benefits, we feel uneasy to accept giving up our labor to AI. What does it mean when we do not have to work anymore? What happens to our identity? Where does this anxiety come from?

I collaborated with the CONFIRM and INSIGHT research group at the University College Cork, Ireland. The researchers there are developing tools for smart manufacturing, the A.I. tools that potentially "replace" our jobs. I was very much interested in the behind the scene of these developments. Who are the people making this mysterious technology that is said to be changing our society? What motivates them? What are their narratives?

I started off interviewing researchers at the lab, getting inspired with their narrative, and also informing myself what actually is the Artificial Intelligence. Later on in the project, I went back and filmed a series of interview to compose a short film that showcase these dialogs with them.

It was not so long before I learned that the inner workings of A.I. is not a black magic, but rather simple. I have got into learning how to make an Artificial Neural Network, and reinterpreting them into my medium, E-Textiles. Using optic fibres as synapses, Light Dependent Resisters as receptors and microcontrollers as Neurons, light travels as neurons fires a signal, resulting in the process of neural network “thinking” becoming visible on the fabric. This Low-Tech A.I. is my way to demystify A.I. from the narrative we are exposed in Media.

I started off the project by saying "I want to wear an A.I.". Instead of observing fearfully from a distance, this is my attempt to opt for proximity. I imagined this as something of offering my body to a ghost that does not have a body. I will be possessed by this intelligent ghost.

One challenge of the project is to use Low-Tech material, old-school microcontroller (ATTINY85) to communicate the simple functioning of this embroidered Neural Network. This chip has small memory space, and limited calculation speed. It has only 5 IN/OUT pins. Creating Neural Network, that performs Machine Learning with this limitation required a lot of try and error, but at the end I managed to assemble small network that is capable of "learning". This is the prototype of a "work wear" sleeve that wearer can teach to classify one hand gesture.

The final garment is still in production. It is planned as 3 hidden layer Neural Network with 12 body sensor inputs. It is a lot of embroidery work that needs to be done before finishing this big network garment. When it finishes, it will be trained to classify 3 body postures of "work" as I wear them and work. When not worn, the garment will hallucinate (or rather dream) of the wearer "working", which I plan to visualize as it dreams.

Project Website >> https://www.kobakant.at/false-lies/

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VERTIGO is funded under the H2020 European STARTS initiative, innovation at the nexus of Science, Technology, and the ARTS. STARTS promotes the arts as catalysts for efficient conversion of science and technology knowledge into products, services, and processes.