Random International’s installation, Zoological, features a flock of airborne spheres that glide and swoop and dance and swarm above and among us. What a mind-boggling show.
In the darkened heights of the Roundhouse in north London, a flying flock of white spheres that uncannily resemble Magritte’s dream objects float intelligently and curiously, checking out the humans below, hovering downward to see us better. They are the most convincing embodiment of artificial intelligence I have ever seen. For these responsive, even sensitive machines truly create a sense of encounter with a digital life form that mirrors, or mocks, human free will.
Nobody is hidden behind a screen piloting this robotic airborne dance troupe. Each sphere has its own decision-making electronic brain. They fly in elegant unison yet also break ranks as they check their positions against the images recorded by infra-red cameras surrounding the circular space where they float and their human visitors walk.
Yet the crucial fact that they guide themselves, mimicking conscious choice in their unplanned and to all intents and purposes spontaneous actions, is apparent without knowing anything about their design. You can tell by the way they move that they are free entities.
Looked at coldly, these devices are just inflated plastic balls whose movements are guided by rotors, like a toy drone. Their behaviour is by turns entrancing and mildly menacing. They rise one after another from their resting positions in an upper gallery and calmly hover out into the open domed arena where their human guests are waiting. They are never at rest. As they glide in formation one or another is always changing its position, approaching the people below with what seems like curiosity. Then they all follow. It is when the entire swarm gathers directly above you that it suddenly becomes a threatening, sinister presence.
This artwork that opens visions of a future in which life evolves beyond biology itself.
The true secret of copying life, this installation shows, lies in movement. Dance, the oldest human art, turns out to be a key to comprehending life itself, and reproducing it. The orbs dance with you. They locate and follow members of the audience, not with mechanical inevitability but a complex, gracious harmony. Making and breaking patterns, coming together and loosely floating apart, they dance with each other, too.
Source: The Guardian