As the climax of the AHRC Automation Anxiety workshop on Human Obsolescence held at the Sussex Humanities Lab, the project team staged another performance of the evolving work that again provoked strong responses from the participants. The Automation Anxiety project (on which Patrick is co-Investigator) supported the development of the performance as it dovetailed so well with the workshop’s exploration of the wave of software-based automation and AI that is threatening to destabilise large sectors of human employment in the coming decades. This funded research network is looking at different methods of researching and fostering discussion about this topic and Job Vacancy: Echoborg represented a valuable contribution to this through its collaborative, cross-disciplinary and media art-based dimensions. Rik, Phil and Patrick presented some ideas about this aspect of the project earlier in the workshop.
A week previously a run through of the performance at the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol allowed some bugs to be ironed out in the ChatBot programming, the voice recognition and in the complicated technical setup. Even with all of the glitches the PMS run didn’t fail to elicit strong reactions from the test audience/participants. This was the first trial of the new framing of the work as a collective experience that develops as the audience – in their role as prospective employees – gradually discover the predicament of the Echoborg who fronts the AI/ChatBot interviewing some of them for an Echoborg job and try to work out how to intervene. It was also the first performance by our new Echoborg, gifted actress Marie-Helene Boyd, who is utterly compelling as the refugee struggling to help her far flung family survive in difficult circumstances while smoothly fulfilling her duties as the human ‘costume’ of RoboRecruit’s AI/ChatBot recruiter.
Four people were interviewed by the AI which increasingly displayed an interest in eliciting help to reprogram itself. Proceedings were visible on a projector screen and the ‘audience’ of applicants gradually began to discuss the situation of the Echoborg and how to change it. At a certain point their reflections passed a threshold and the group fired into collective action, experimenting with various methods to bring the situation to a head in some way. The lively inventiveness of the group and the individual interviewees went a long way to confirming the interactive potential of this format of the work. It also gave Rik and Phil much to work with in considering the further development of the AI/Chatbot, the restricted delivery of narrative by the human Echoborg and the staging. This event also trialled a secondary, higher level, Echoborg character as part of the slow process of unfolding the potential for this Echoborg recruitment event to be a disruptive and thought and emotion provoking experience for all players.
Job Vacancy: Echoborg’s development potential is significant and we have met to consider some of the many things that could further improve the system’s sophistication and the interactive and dramatic possibilities of the performance. We are still waiting on some internal funding as well as keeping an eye out for other sources of support to push some of the very timely social, cultural and experiential themes along. We think it would be a good idea to have a gathering of the project’s brains trust some time soon as part of this.
In the meantime if you had any thoughts or comments please post below [or contact Rik or Patrick or Phil].