First Contact (2023)

An interactive installation questioning our interpretation of exotic consciousness and introducing the concept of delphic AI.

Machine learning, shader art, generative art, real-time art, interactive installation

First contact with alien civilizations, conversation with artificial intelligences, abstract art contemplation: these are all forms of esoteric communication with an entity supposedly conscious, which interacts with intent. But what if the impression of consciousness and intent doesn’t emerge from the entity we’re communicating with, but rather from within ourselves?

On August 6, 1967, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell picked up a radio signal that science couldn’t yet explain. The code name for the signal was LGM-1, standing for “little green men 1”, because even for some top scientists, only intelligent extraterrestrial life could explain the phenomenon. It seems as if we can’t help but believe that there must always be something conscious behind unexplained signals, whether they come from a distant star, a machine, or the depths of the ocean. That is based on this observation that First Contact makes sense.

First Contact is an installation where a stream of abstract visuals appears on a screen in front of the spectator, whose facial expression and hand gestures are being detected and fed into a program that makes the video evolve in real time; for example, when the spectator is first perceived, the visuals “awaken”, but most interactions are less direct and based on whole entire sequences of movements, thereby creating some kind of exotic conversation between the spectator and the machine.

First Contact does not take the path of imitative AIs like ChatGPT or Blade Runner’s Android, but rather something that could be called delphic AI.

Delphi is an ancient sacred Greek city and seat of the Pythia, an oracle that expressed herself in enigmatic riddles that where then translated by priests into actionable assertions. This is a prime example of superior knowledge authority being derived from the setting rather than the content: the Oracle of Delphi was consulted by the greatest kings, but stripped from the temple and the respect that she benefited from, her utterrances were mere gibberish to the common ear.

The goal is not to decipher and talk the language, but rather to feel the complexity of the language itself and derive from it an illusion of sentience.

In this regard, the Oracle of Delphi, LGM-1, and First Contact, are one and the same - a manifestation of delphic AI: unexplained yet complex communication give the illusion of sentience.

The code behind First Contact as well as the installation instructions are open sourced on github.

First Contact was first put on display at 36 Degrés and Galerie Charlot’s Psych.é exhibition, featuring other artists at the intersection of art and technology like Jan Kounen.

This exhibition concluded by a live performance of the artist reusing bits and pieces of the visual alogorithm behind First Contact displayed as projection mapping along with a modular synthesizer live from Accalmie.