Elena Knox

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Alter versus Deep Belief

Omikuji   御御籤


Robot, AI, sound, live streaming, electronic 'belief machine', interactive experiment

Omikuji is a live-stream event taking place between Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) and major international art precincts including Artsonje Center in Seoul, 798 Art Zone in Beijing, and Powerlong Art Center in Hangzhou. It is part of Knox+Watanabe’s art–science experiments Alter versus Deep Belief.

Omikuji was commissioned by Goethe Institut China for the international exhibition A Better Version of You. It is supported by Miraikan.

Technical (belief machine): Boris Morris Bagattini, Lindsay Webb
Robot: Takashi Ikegami, Hiroshi Ishiguro
Thanks: Itsuki Doi, Kohei Ogawa, Yukio Yanagawa, Nana Chen, Jenna Lee

Alter is a new robot with experimental AI. It can sense, learn, and sing. It uses a self-organising neural network to classify its surroundings. Such AI strategies include deep belief networks, through which machines determine certain inputs to be believable. Alter is beginning to believe things about the world.

Using our Belief Machine, visitors to the exhibition will communicate with Alter in Tokyo’s Miraikan. Alter will transcode your personal details, re-interpret them in real-time through its own sound-making, and send you this unique sonic response as a personal omikuji. Omikuji are short fortunes obtained at Japanese temples and shrines.

Art/experiment objectives

We observe how a nascent robot learns and embodies its ‘beliefs’. If the goal of artificial neural networks is for machines to discern phenomena in a humanlike way, Alter is also outputting its discernment of sensory data via its machine body; by this performativity, its belief and behaviour evolve.

In robotic intelligence that mimics human ‘deep belief’, machines are trained to recognise characteristics and then to recreate (infer) them by probability, eventually being able to perform classification tasks. They ‘think’ in layers of computational variables which are inferred from initial, lower layers of direct-measured values — yet each sub-network can only ‘see’ the one that came before it. Layer by layer of accumulated belief, the deep layers of the machine-brain act as truth filters (‘feature vectors’), guiding the learning process.

Belief systems are maximally contentious in our globalised world, and are important to both the inter-harmony and the preservation of culture/s. We create artworks to uncover and express the layers of Alter’s budding belief system, in their naïve mutability and contingency, even their idiosyncrasy. People may be prompted to ask: How are we transmitting our beliefs to and through machines? How sure are we in our beliefs? How soft are they, and how hard?


9 Tomorrows, China Academy of Art (cur. Yao Dajuin), Powerlong Art Center, Hangzhou and China national tour, 2018
A Better Version of You, Goethe Institut Peking (cur. Nina Franz, Christian von Borries), 798 Art Zone, Beijing 2018
A Better Version of You, Artsonje Center for Contemporary Art, Seoul 2017


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