AI: More than Human at the Barbican – ‘a whistle-stop tour that poses man against machine’

AI: More than Human at the Barbican – ‘a whistle-stop tour that poses man against machine’

★★★★ by Ifan Llewelyn

Out cultural flirtations with how we think of the future is in constant flux. How we think of our technological future has come a long way since The Jetsons whizzed across our televisions back in the ’60s in bubble hover cars. The excitement of what advancements were coming our way had most households throwing out their threadbare couches for sleek, shiny swivel chairs and curved lines dominated futuristic interiors. Then came the ’70s and Soylent Green tinged our picture of the future with something altogether more sinister, where us humans had slipped from consumers to products for consumption. Flash forward through the dark dystopian futures depicted in the cinema of the ’80s and ’90s, through to the dirt and grit of the ’00s that considers our devastating impact on the environment which is soon to drastically take its toll, you arrive at today confused and increasingly worried about what new horror is coming our way. AI: More than Human presents both a technological history and future which is astonishingly positive in its outlook. 

Arming you with the basic vocabulary upon entry, you arrive at the unlikely commencement of ancient alchemy and Judaism which makes a surprising origin story for where we’ve arrived with technology. The Dream of AI brings a mysticism to the dialogue around AI which all too often is of a physical and practical ilk. It really has yo u thinking of how uncanny it is that the block of metal, glass and plastic in your pocket can speak to you at the double-click of a home button. An anthropomorphic bit of clay all of the sudden doesn’t feel a world away.

From ancient philosophies, we move on to Mind Machines where code and mechanisms come together, most notably with a short history of computing, from pioneer Ada Lovelace, through Alun Turing’s seminal work on The Imitation Game deciphering codes during the Second World War, to IBM’s ‘Watson’ competing against people on US gameshow Jeopardy! to Alex Trebek’s delight. Following interweaving threads of code, intelligence and tech you’re rushed through to where we’ve arrived now after almost a century of innovation. It’s here that creativity becomes complicated as Mario Klingemann’s Circuit Training uses machine learning to create art. 

15. FACEPRINT, Nexus Studios © Nexus Studios

Then we enter the Data Worlds where a bird’s eye view of how data-collecting and AI are already applied to most aspects of daily life is given. The improvements to the health sector and road safety take centre stage as the display of how data collection can be utilised effectively to improve quality of life. Issues that are usually central to the debate around increased automation don’t quite get interrogated as they often are in headlines. From machine biases reinforcing an idea of a functioning society that might not prove universally beneficial to questions of morality to the issue of privacy which is currently dominating the conversation aren’t engaged with in a satisfying way. The works addressing these issues aren’t as enticing as the interactive visual displays.

Catapulting from the present to the Endless Evolution that blazes our trail into the future, the exhibition’s final section looks at where we could be heading. Development of 3D bioprinting and hacking into the human mind questions nature and its laws in a world where we’re able to create our own. There’s overwhelmingly aspirational energy to the tech that is on display which succeeds in sturring an excitement of what’s to come, from a revolution of healthcare to Digital Nature featuring artificial butterflies. 

Though perhaps causing one too many headaches since explanations are a little too brief, having a few things go over your head is expected in this exploration of a multi-faceted field that’s infinitely complicated. More than Human makes translates to you feeling less than machine. You may leave feeling a little inadequate having encountered various works by visionary thinkers, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s very much a case of the more you learn the more you realise the less you know. This glimpse into the future is one that counteracts the overwhelming dread that comes from daily headlines of environmental 

AI: More than Human is showing at The Barbican Centre until the 26th of August. Tickets available at


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