The intimate touch of technology
by Lara Studer
So, what again is intimacy? The sensual touches between two lovers or the tight embrace between friends and relatives?
The Science Gallery shows in their newest exhibition that intimacy can be so much more, especially speaking in technical terms. Their exhibition which started last October and will last till the end of February shows on two floors what intimacy also can mean.
Take the “Companion Cat” for instance. A team from Hasbro invented this orange cuddly and soft artificial cat to comfort the elderly. The cat reacts to touches and motion and makes meowing sounds to interact with its owner. It looks like a children toy, but it addresses the key issue of loneliness in age. It has been promoted as something who should liberate you from your bad conscience of leaving grandparents on their own.
Of course, the exhibition does feature more than cuddling an artificial cat. There is, for instance, the app “Peoplekeeper”. The app allows rating encounters with people, how they make you feel and makes a suggestion with whom you should spend more time or who you should ban from your life. That sounds really like technology made in a Black Mirror episode but — and this is the scary bit - the app is actually real. It does not only help you to rate your friends and relatives but also monitor your heart rate and GPS location to give you a more precise analysis of your mental state during these encounters.
A rather bizarre experience is also the exhibit by German artist Simon Menner. The artist shows images of people hugging each other. First, the visitor may think it’s only a show of affection between two people until you see the caption beneath it. The pictures are taken from propaganda material from Islamic terror groups and show the last good-bye of a suicide bomber to a fellow fighter.
With this information in mind, most of the hugs look rushed, even clingy. But one picture stands out: a young beardy man hugs someone else, his face looks almost at peace with himself and the world.
This picture may leave you back puzzled: how can be someone so relaxed, share such intimacy before he murders hundreds of innocent people?
The exhibition features more futuristic exhibits like the “Kissenger”, a device which allows you to reproduce the lip pressure of a kiss by your lover. It is possible to put the phone in it, so you can see and kiss each other at the same time.
Another exhibit “A Machine Interpretation” shows how artificial intelligence and algorithms can predict human interactions. The artist Promila Roychouhury created a map of behaving strategies in intimidate situation like greeting or apologize to a stranger outlined by the mind of a machine.
You may now ask: it that the future of intimacy?
Some exhibits look more like a gadget for distant lovers, others want to contribute to cultural understanding. But if you take the Companion Cat for instance: does it really solve the problem of a society crowded by elderly and lonely people?
Does an app like Peoplekeeper really do your job to uphold a healthy circle of friends around you?
Life might be not so easy.
The exhibition does a great job to show us what is possible with technology and how intimacy can look taken out of context of the traditional meaning. Especially to what extent people go to feel intimacy with something or someone and how the industry makes profit out of it. This might be a new angle to view on our relationships, but if it is the right thing for everyone is in the end in the eye of the beholder.