Michel Erler – Robotum Anthromorphum

Robotum Anthromorphum: of Virtual Assistants and their Networked Materialities

The development and design of artificial intelligence has predominately been an anthropocentric endeavour. The sophisticated humanoid robot, indistinguishable from us human beings has been the idealised image for the A.I. community to work towards to for decades. With the rise of ubiquitous text bots and virtual assistant making use of speech recognition software such as Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri (the particular ‘object’ discussed in this paper), our conception of artificial characters changes. As Flusser presumably would have said, these characters appear and disappear “like ghosts”, and we have not yet fully figured out how to make sense of them.
The physical bodies of these assistants consist and rely as much on algorithmic processing as they do on a planetary-scale network consisting of mobile phones, fibre cables, data centres, communication satellites, etc. How do we as designers deal with their tangible and intangible materiality? How do we as humans deal with this other, algorithmic form of intelligence? Where do we place them on the range between animate and inanimate, human and inhuman? How can Flusser’s phenomenological work provide an intellectual toolbox to address these questions?

Michel Erler is a Graduate of London College of Communications