Artificial Art consists of an artistic intervention within Amazon’s online sweatshop Mechanical Turk, a website where people underpay other people to do creatively stagnating, mechanical work. The tasks posted on the site usually range from image tagging to information collection and data verification, and often pay between $1-$5 per task. Working with Amazon’s already-established platform, the intervention takes advantage of one of the service’s most critical workarounds: getting cheap human workers from across the globe to execute tasks that computers should be able to do but can’t yet.
The origins of the name “Mechanical Turk” come from what was also known as “The Turk”, or “Automaton Chess Player.” It was a fake chess-playing machine constructed in the late 18th century, an illusion that allowed a human chess master to hide inside the machine to operate it and play against genuine humans. Extending this reference, Amazon’s quirky tagline for their service, written in a small, baby-blue colored font reads: “Artificial Artificial Intelligence.” At the center of the term lies a twofold deception that tries to illuminate the faculty of the service by proving what it is not: it is not not human intelligence. What is it, then? If artificial intelligence consensually means machine intelligence, then what does not machine intelligence intend to denote? Is it necessarily alluding back to human intelligence? It seems that although the site promotes a free market economy in which task-prices are determined by unrestricted competition between Requesters exclusively, it also masks the fact that there are real humans standing behind the system.
The exhibition explores the work created by the anonymous workers commissioned via Mechanical Turk. Yet this collection of work is unusual; each drawing reflects a worker’s response to an automated task-generator, an algorithm programmed to construct random drawing instructions for every worker to carry out. In this case, the logic behind the instructions is artificial, however the workers’ results celebrate what it means to be human.