Electric Dreams is a site-specific installation reflecting
on how new technologies apprehend and transform the urban environment. In the
near future, a computer, along with a printer and other peripherals, is found
‘alive’ in an abandoned, wrecked office space. The computer seems to have
developed a kind of artificial intelligence in its effort to escape years of
boredom and loneliness. With the use of Google street view, it sets off to
explore its surroundings and to discover what lies outside its dark and cold room.
As it navigates through parts of the city, it takes photographs i.e. screenshots,
then copies and repositions elements as to final construct its very own masterpiece.
The computer as a
future flaneur throws itself into the
urban landscape and takes on reinterpreting
the image of the city. In his infamous Arcades
Project, Benjamin suggests that: “The anamnestic intoxication in which the
flaneur goes about the city not only feeds on sensory data taking shape before
his eyes but can very well possess itself of abstract knowledge –indeed of dead
facts – as something experienced and lived through”. What ‘sensory data’ can
the machine absorb? What sort of urban experience do its algorithmic
processes allow? Could there be any ‘anamnestic
intoxication’ at all?
A machine’s (urban) experience
can seem indeed limited, or even nonexistent, to that of humans, yet its
learning ability, when it comes to speed, storage and information access, is massive
compared to ours, as it is its capacity of multiple simultaneous interconnections.
Do we really know how a machine is capable of using the endless data that is
receiving? The computer-flaneur seems to be limited to the information of Google
Street View, but perhaps this is not the case. Perhaps in its effort to make
sense of the multifaceted layers of the city, it reaches out to other facts and
figures: It reads through texts and manuscripts, searches historical and philosophical
writings, examines old photographs and sound recordings, various Youtube videos
reflects on advanced technology as a means of understanding the
world and the places we inhabit, wondering on the use of machine learning and
the potential of AI. Narrating probably one of Sci-Fi’s favourite stories, that
machines can and will eventually develop Emotional Intelligence, which will render
them more human than we are.
Benjamin, Walter, 2002, The Arcades Project, Harvard University Press