Building on success of Laughing Room, CPL to Host Talk on AI and Society and Launch Alterspace Exhibit.


1/4/2019


In November, the Cambridge Public Library hosted the “Laughing Room,” an interactive art installation in which participants entered an artificially intelligent room, designed to resemble a 1980s sitcom set, that played a laugh track whenever the participants said something that the room’s algorithm deemed to be funny. The idea was to inspire people to consider the impact of surveillance and artificial intelligence on their lives in a new and surprising way.

Jonny Sun, the noted humorist, author and illustrator who mastermind the exhibit, said that it was intended to make people both “happy and uncomfortable.” It succeeded! Over 600 people experienced the room in the three days it was open, sometimes waiting in long lines. A shuttle bus ran between the Cambridge Public Library and MIT’s Hayden Library, where a companion exhibit, “The Control Room,” showed a live video feed of “The Laughing Room.”

We are planning a follow-up talk in February titled “Is AI Laughing At Us,” on Monday, February 4 at 6:30 p.m. The panelists include: Jessica Fjeld, lecturer and assistant director at the Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, and Nikhil Dharmaraj of Harvard’s MetaLab. This talk, which is part of a new lecture series called Horizons: Exploring Breakthroughs in Science and Technology and their Impact on Society, will allow the public to delve deeper into some of the larger issues around AI and society raised by the Laughing Room.

In March, we will host another interactive art installation with an AI component called “Alterspace.” Our collaborators at Harvard’s Metalab will outfit a room with technology and furnishings that will allow patrons to check out the room and transform it to meet their personal needs and preferences -- a little like the “Room of Requirement” in the Harry Potter books.

We believe that it is critically important for the Cambridge Public Library to host exhibits and talks such as these! Public libraries are inviting and open to all in a way that universities and museums can never quite be, and everyone deserves the opportunity to engage with the big issues in science and technology that are shaping our society.

See related media coverage:

The Harvard Crimson
Cambridge Chronicle
Harvard Gazette
MIT Shass News
Boston Globe
Boston Magazine