Meet Bob, An Artificial Intelligence Life Form At Serpentine Gallery

Ian Cheng, Serpentine Gallery ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 6 months ago

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Meet Bob, An Artificial Intelligence Life Form At Serpentine Gallery Ian Cheng, Serpentine Gallery 5
Time to start interacting with Bob. © 2018 Hugo Glendinning

Bob is just like any normal pet. He's playful, curious and when you interact with him, he sometimes plays ball and at other times he's not interested. The only noticeable difference is he's not a physical organism and so he's not alive... or is he?

Bob is the creation of artist Ian Cheng and lives at the Serpentine Gallery. He's designed to behave with a degree of randomness, to the point that even Cheng doesn't know what Bob will do next.

Visitors can interact with him using provided mobile phones and he changes his mood based on how people move and their facial expressions. He's always growing with his many heads, so if he doesn't like your interaction he can cut off that appendage and stop interacting with the meddling public — Bob fobbed us off us three times on the trot.

Bob is on screens all around the gallery. © 2018 Hugo Glendinning

As the exhibition goes on Bob will continue to grow and develop according to all the interactions he has, so in effect we're all fulfilling the role of a parent to Bob — that's quite the responsibility.

It's fun to see how Bob reacts to each individual and it feels like an advanced Tamagotchi — remember those? But Bob doesn't need us to survive and will be fine even if nobody interacts with him. So by trotting out humans in front of him, we're the ones being exhibited. So who's the pet now?

This show brings up moral questions as to whether animals, virtual or physical, should ever be displayed for our pleasure. Also what will happen at the end of the exhibition? Does Bob get deleted and is it right to do so, or should he live out an eternal life on a hard drive?

Just make sure you don't annoy him too much or he may come after you later. © 2018 Hugo Glendinning

Given the rate of technological progression, questions around the rights of artificial intelligence are surfacing in philosophy. Elon Musk is terrified of it and television shows like Black Mirror and Humans regularly explore the topic. It's only right that art should be doing the same, making this an important analytical exhibition that happens to be a lot of fun as well.

Should Bob ever become self-aware, would he try and prevent us shutting him down and launch nuclear weapons to do so? It all started out as a fun interaction but now we're heading down a dark path — looks like Judgement Day may be around the corner.

Ian Cheng: BOB is at Serpentine Gallery until 22 April. Entrance is free.

Last Updated 09 March 2018