When ELIZA, the world’s first chatbot, was born in the 1960s, users were startled at how much the psychotherapist in the program resembled a human. Since then, chatbots have become increasingly sophisticated; some predict that a computer will pass the Turing test of successfully impersonating a human within the next decade. But in the age of Big Data, does it make sense to say that bots are imitating us? Many already are us, constituted from the thoughts and emotions we share every day online.
B.E.T.T.Y. seeks to draw attention to the ghost in the machine of AI – the humans who unwittingly control the wonderful Wizard of Oz from behind the curtain, and crouch inside the Mechanical Turk. Audience members are invited to share their private thoughts with an entity created by data-mining millions of social media messages in real time. Is artificial intelligence really so artificial after all? And do these cyborgian interlocutors lend us an empathetic ear, or cold comfort?
B.E.T.T.Y. was a new media installation for the Art Gallery of New South Wales Society Contempo series exhibition Electroscape: the here and now of digital art in February 2014.