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Reality Intelligence

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By Bekah Wright

Published Mar 14, 2018 2:45 PM


Lauren McCarthy's work is prompted by her own introversion.


Lauren McCarthy.

Lauren McCarthy M.F.A. ’11 really wants to get to know you. That desire drives the work of the assistant professor in UCLA Design Media Arts. But you won’t find her at her own exhibitions. “I have a lot of social anxiety,” she explains. “My art installations are attempts to help myself fit into, and feel calmer in, social situations.”

Such was the case with Lauren, a weeklong, interactive performance that McCarthy did in conjunction with the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam DocLab. Lauren enabled overnight guests in McCarthy’s Los Angeles apartment to communicate with her through a smart home system while she was at the Amsterdam gallery, where the performance was viewed in real time.

Lauren has been labeled a work of reality intelligence versus artificial intelligence, in keeping with what McCarthy is trying to convey. “The dynamics of how we relate to one another, and misunderstand or misrepresent, are still there,” she says. “Plus, we’re under surveillance, predicted and controlled by artificial intelligence. This makes us look at each other differently.”

She wants to prompt people to think about this millennium’s reliance on technology. “You’re so comfortable with Amazon collecting and using your data, [but] how would you feel if it were just me, just a person?” she questions. “Because there are always people behind technology.”

McCarthy aims to connect with people beyond surface conversations. “My projects lead to intense interactions and relationships that leave both parties reflecting on the experience.”

Now she's developing a project called 24-Hour Host, which will give a glimpse into a future where the last remaining role of humans might be to communicate on behalf of AI. “Technology allows for optimizing decisions, but we still want a human touch,” she says.

Guests of 24-Hour Host attend a party where McCarthy remotely makes introductions and inserts conversation starters. But what might a conversation with McCarthy unearth? How her MIT professors showed her she could combine her loves of computer science and art. And how those experiences led her to UCLA for an M.F.A.

In return, McCarthy might ask: “What are you about?” But even this can be a little much, she says. Breaking past her introversion, she might say, “I can seem really shy, nervous and closed off, but that’s because I really want to get to know you, and I’m afraid I might mess that up in some way. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, I really want to be here with you.”

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