At Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), Artificial Intelligence: Your Mind & The Machine currently resides in the special exhibit hall. It’s a quiet, secluded corner among MOHAI’s bustling attractions. An array of brain teasers, touch screens, sci-fi movie posters, and robot models line the room’s edges, while interactive puzzles and pillars of text fill the center. Created by The Relayer Group, this traveling exhibit explores the relationship between the human mind and computers, charting the development of artificial intelligence from its ancient roots. It’s a fun, worthwhile exhibit for both kids and adults interested in learning more about A.I., but it dulls in comparison to MOHAI’s other offerings.
The exhibit hall doors open to an olive green wall with a few lines of white serif text: what is the difference between a human mind and a computer? The exhibit quickly answers this question, leading visitors through optical illusions that perplex our eyes but go unnoticed by computers. Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s paintings of fish and fruit, arranged to look like portrait heads, hang on the wall. An A.I. would simply recognize these as fish and fruit rather than the portrait heads humans recognize. A Tower of Hanoi puzzle sits below, comprised of stacked rings that must be placed in ascending order without putting bigger rings on top of smaller ones. A program could solve it in seconds, but it might take you and a friend a bit of extra effort. As Artificial Intelligence explains, conversation around A.I. swirls with sensationalist claims that computers will render human minds obsolete. These first few displays clarify that the human brain and A.I. each have strengths and weaknesses; A.I. is not a looming threat to civilization, but a tool we use to solve problems. The rest of the exhibit builds off this foundation to further explain the relationship between “your mind and the machine,” getting into how A.I. functions, its heights and limitations, its representations in pop culture, and its history. There are touchscreen games, translators, and hands-on activities as the exhibit continues to tell the story of artificial intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence has a range of interactive elements, from face-mapping software to Pong and “spot the difference” games. Each aims to illustrate a strength of modern A.I. The face-mapping software display—in which users see their facial movements reflected by a CGI red panda—demonstrates motion capture, an everyday use of A.I. that simplifies computer animation. Pong lets visitors test their video game skills against a computer’s algorithm. The “spot the difference” games show how A.I. processes visual information more efficiently than the human brain. These interactive elements are easily the highlight of the exhibit, an educational arcade of easy-to-grasp and engaging activities accessible for both kids and adults. Some activities are more novel than others, but they create a well-rounded picture of what A.I. is capable of.
For visitors looking to go beyond the games and brain teasers, the written displays cover historical turning points and technical concepts. At the beginning of the exhibit, they detail the recorded origins of A.I., like the mythical automaton Talos and the first use of the word “robot.” They then progress to pop culture representations like Frankenstein, the establishment of computer science as a field, and the different operations of A.I., hypothesizing what it will look like in the future. These displays are organized by complexity, developing ideas further as the room goes on. This organization was effective for a broad overview and pairs nicely with the rest of the exhibit. However, the information follows a timeline only loosely, and there are no specific story threads to follow. It lacks a particular focus, so the written portions often come across as scattered bits of trivia rather than a cohesive story.
Despite the fun activities, the exhibit felt weighed down by the atmosphere and its lack of variety. MOHAI’s special exhibit hall is a dark, low-ceilinged shoebox compared to its otherwise open, well-lit spaces, and the blinking lights and bright touch screens were not enough to liven the claustrophobic environment. This exacerbated the feeling that Artificial Intelligence, with only two main elements, activities and written information, was lackluster compared to MOHAI’s many inventive displays of deeply researched Seattle stories. The exhibit was entertaining, but it didn’t have the same liveliness as the rooms just outside the door and down the walkway.
Artificial Intelligence: Your Mind & The Machine is a fantastic option for museum visitors wishing to gain a basic understanding of artificial intelligence in an interactive format. Beyond the games and puzzles, however, the exhibit falls short due to its lack of focus and bleak atmosphere. It’s a solid presentation of the story of artificial intelligence, and serves its purpose as an interactive exploration of the relationship between “your mind and the machine.” Nonetheless, it can’t hold its own against the rest of MOHAI’s fantastical, clever, and rich exhibits.
Artificial Intelligence took place at the MOHAI (Museum of History & Industry) on October 15, 2022 — January 8, 2023. For more information see here.