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Anna Dumitriu

Anna Dumitriu
The Emergence of Consciousness 1 (2010)
Photograph of Performance

Anna Dumitriu
The Emergence of Consciousness 2 (2010)
Photograph of Performance

Anna Dumitriu's sculptural installations and performances traverse BioArt and digital media, and use robotics, synthetic biology, DNA, bacteria and altered found objects as media.

In her 2010 performance "The Emergence of Consciousness" the artist attempted to feel what it is like to be a robot through a physical exploration the philosophical foundations of contemporary artificial life research, taking inspiration from Thomas Nagel's 1974 paper "What is it like to be a bat?" Dumitriu reduced her sensory input as closely as she could to that of the robot, making explicit Francisco Varela's notion of mindfulness in a robot, where the robot is completely focussed on the feedback from its single ultrasound sensor. The artist then 'competed' against a robot to find the centre of the room. Her body was taped up, earplugs, a blindfold, bondage tape and even lidocaine was used to limit her movement and ability to interact. As suggested by project advisor Inman Harvey, an artificial life expert from the Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics at the University of Sussex where Dumitriu was artist in residence from 2005-2011 she used just a walking stick to find her way around.

Dumitriu developed, co-built and programmed 'Mary' the robot which she used in the performance (named after the scientist described in Frank Jackson's famous paper entitled "Epiphenomenal Qualia" (1982), known as 'the knowledge argument'). She worked on the piece at Build Brighton Hackspace where she was a founder member, with the support of other hardware hackers.

'Mary' used a control system which had been evolved using a genetic algorithm by Harvey specifically to find the centre of a room, and did so by spiralling in on the centre using the feedback from its ultrasound sensor hitting the wall. However, the artist was limited to her learned 'human' way of doing it. The audience stepped aside as Dumitriu staggered and lunged around the space counting her steps and as the robot performed its intricate spiralling. This gave audiences an explicit and visceral sense of the vast difference between human intelligence and the field of machine intelligence.

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