The Normalizing Machine is an interactive installation presented as an experimental research in machine-learning. It aims to identify and analyze the image of social normalcy. Each participant is asked to point out who looks most normal from a line-up of previously recorded participants. The machine analyzes the participants’ decisions and adds them to its aggregated algorithmic image of normalcy.
Two scientists whose fingerprints are plastered all over contemporary culture inform the work. In the late 1800s the French forensics pioneer Alphonse Bertillon, the father of the mugshot, developed “Le Portrait Parle” (the speaking portrait), a system for standardizing, indexing, and classifying the human face. His statistical system was never meant to criminalize the face but it was later widely adopted by both the Eugenics movement and by the Nazis to do exactly that.
Half a century later, British Mathematician Alan Turing laid the foundation to computing and artificial intelligence. Turing was concerned about the fate of a child-machine, singled out among the other normal children. Turing was one of the unsung heroes of WW2 who cracked the Nazi Enigma code. Nevertheless, in the early 50s he was convicted of homosexuality, was chemically castrated, and later took his own life. Turing hoped AI would transcend the kind of systemic bias that criminalized his own deviation from the norms.
The installation visualizes how machine learning automates Bertillon’s speaking portraits and paradoxically amplifies systemic biases. As today’s systematic discrimination is aggregated and conveniently hidden behind a seemingly objective black box.
Mushon Zer-Aviv (IL) is a designer, educator, and media activist. He is an alumnus of Eyebeam Art+Technology Center in NY whose work and writings have been featured internationally. Mushon is a senior faculty member at Shenkar College, the VP of Design at LOCALIZE.city and a civic design lead at the Public Knowledge Workshop.Dan Stavy (IL)
Dan Stavy (IL) is a media artist and a creative coder. He specializes in interactive installation, projection mapping and mobile apps. Dan work has been presented in festivals, exhibitions, museums and live performance in Israel and abroad.Eran Weissenstern (IL)
Eran Weissenstern (IL) is a software engineer based in Tel Aviv. He designed and developed interactive installations for museums, proof-of-concept demos for startup companies, and gesture-based control paradigms for user interfaces. His work seeks the boundaries between the imaginary and real; trying to bridge between human and machine.
Mushon Zer-Aviv in cooperation with Dan Stavy and Eran Weissenstern
Support received from: Shenkar College, Print Screen Festival