Chatbots are conventionally used in marketing and customer service. They are convenient and cost-effective, though at times creepy and have trouble understanding the nuances of human communication. While businesses continue their bitter-sweet relationship with these automated employees, artists have long been using chatbots in their work to raise awareness about social issues, to comment on the disappearing human-machine divide, to examine interpersonal communication in the age of machine mediation, to digitally archive one’s memory, or simply bring delight into everyday life.
Inspired by projects such as Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Agent Ruby and American Artist’s Sandy Speaks, this class looks at chatbots as a unique medium of art in the context of the bigger art world and the current chatbot landscape. Chatbots can create experiences that other forms of art cannot. They are interactive by nature—an art piece in the form of a chatbot is only complete with audience participation. They also invite introspection more than any other medium—a user talking to a chatbot is essentially talking to themselves with the assistance of a computer program.
Students will engage in discussions about various topics related to chatbots, artificial intelligence, and humanity under machine mediation. By experimenting with tools such as Rivescript, RiTa.js, p5.speech, and ml5—all of which can be integrated with p5.js—they are encouraged to come up with their own workflows and create chatbots that can provoke the audience to think beyond the surface level interaction. At the end of the class, students will walk away with the ability to build a chatbot on their own, as well as a deeper understanding of how technology is shaping the world we live in.
Prerequisites: Introduction to Computational Media or comparable programming experience.