Body and Technology

Corpus Nil, a performance for human body and artificially intelligent machine by Marco Donnarumma. Courtesy of Onuk @ZKM

To give you a foretaste of what is awaiting you at Salon für Ästhetische Experimente #2 at Haus der Kulturen der Welt next week, Marco Donnarumma, performance artist and fellow at the Graduiertenschule UdK Berlin, will give you an insight into his recent study. His interests go deep into the collaboration of artificial intelligence and body movement, the scientific impacts and its outcomes in an artistic way.

The advance of research in artificial intelligence (AI) for both software and hardware is today more rapid than ever. Governmental and academic institutions are only beginning to respond to the social and ethical issues posed by increasingly ubiquitous and proactive AIs. Corporations and start-ups, on the other hand, relentlessly focus on creating AI capable of drastically changing human activities: from everyday routines and law enforcement to medical diagnosis and warfare. Human bodies and identities are continuously categorized, online and offline, by artificially intelligent algorithms. Robotics machines increasingly populate and often actively condition human life.

But what if, by contrast, artificial intelligence could be used to contaminate human bodily experience? How does a body defiled by algorithms look and move like? How can autonomous robotics help inhabit hybrid forms of embodiment?

These are the high-level questions we set out to investigate in the frame of the artistic research project »Configurations: Performing the Human-Machine«. The project, led by myself Marco Donnarumma (Fellow at Graduiertenschule UdK) and mentored by Prof. Alberto De Campo (Institut für zeitbasierte Medien, UdK), brings together practice-based artistic research, scientific investigation and technological development.

© Work in progress for Amygdala, prototype for an AI prosthetic robot by Marco Donnarumma, in collaboration with Neurobotics Research Laboratory and Ana Rajcevic Studio. ©Work in progress for Amygdala, prototype for an AI prosthetic robot by Marco Donnarumma, in collaboration with Neurobotics Research Laboratory and Ana Rajcevic Studio.

Collaborating closely with Prof. Manfred Hild at the Neurorobotics Research Laboratory (Beuth-Hochschule für Technik), we are investigating physical and intimate interaction between human bodies and autonomous machines. The latter are computational systems possessing a physical body, as well as the artificial cognitive and sensorimotor skills that come with it. We are researching how existing technologies in the field of cognitive robotics can be used, or abused, to create a sound-based performance for an autonomous machine and a human performer. Far from wanting to create a technical exercise in machine intelligence, my own artistic interest lies in confounding the boundaries of human and machine, sensory coercion and musical performance, disturbing clusters of flesh and circuits and graceful unfamiliar bodies.

An important premise of the project is to tackle the theoretical implications of these kinds of human-machine hybrids. Using notions from philosophy of technological embodiment and cultural study of the body, we aim to develop analytical tools to foster public discussion on the questions I asked above, and the many others that may arise. To this end, I am running a speculative thinking workshop on AI Ethics and Prosthetics, which is providing useful insights. The first outcome of the research will be presented at on 24th April at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Framed as one of the monthly Salon für Ästhetische Experimente hosted by the Graduiertenschule, the event will offer talks by scholars in body theory, cultural critique of computation and neurorobotics, as well as an open panel discussion and the exhibit of our first prototype. To those interested in the challenging and fascinating future of body and technology: I hope to see some of you there.

– Marco Donnarumma

Marco Donnarumma is performance artist and research fellow at the UdK Berlin Graduiertenschule.