They Learn Like Small Children

Digital machine embroidery and digital print on linen, 2019-, 185 x 135 cm each

Technologists often discuss AI in terms of human development, comparing the trial-and-error learning of neural networks to the explorations and learning patterns of children. But how does this comparison manipulate the discourse around so-called Artificial Intelligence and what role do gender politics play between socially prescribed child-rearing responsibilities and the heavily male-biased field of AI R&D.

They Learn Like Small Children is an ongoing series of large-format textile banners made in collaboration with a 'GAN' image-generating AI and the artist's child. Trained on a dataset of the five-year-old's drawings and a second dataset of stock photographs of children, it can be said that the GAN has been taught to make images of children in the style of a child's drawings. Selected digital images from the GAN outputs are printed onto cotton linen, over which excised graphic elements from the training set drawings are digitally machine embroidered.

The series addresses interwoven human, machinic, and algorithmic creation/production — and all of the incumbent ethical considerations that collaboration implies - as well as complex notions of authorship and originality between coded entities and codified relations. It directly challenges Silicon Valley narratives about so-called AI as they relate to the idea of ‘intelligence’ but also to the presumed neutrality of technology - the idea that an AI is above or somehow outside of human emotions and biases. Taking an overtly feminist approach, the work is interested in pulling the collective imagination of AI out of sci-fi, or the sterile realm of supposedly neutral algorithmic processes, and into the messier world of domestic duties, the politics of care, and how these influence our hierarchies of meaning.

Are AIs - pieces of software tightly defined by networked, algorithmic processes programmed by humans - really intelligent? And if so-called AIs learn like human children, who is doing the (non-gendered) mothering of AIs?

They Learn Like Small Children was initially developed within the framework of a Career Development Grant from the Australia Council.
Automatic Dreams, Galerie Wundersee, curated by Florian Kuhlmann, Duesseldorf, Germany, 2021-22. link
Children of Prometheus, NeMe Art Centre, curated by Marc Garrett, Limassol, Cyprus, 2019. link
Ursula Stroebele zu zeitgenoessischer Kunst und kuenstlicher Intelligenz - Gretta Louw, Ursula Stroebele, ZI Spotlight - Zentralinstitut fuer Kunstgeschichte, 16.09.2020 Link