An essay by

*BAD Award winner 2022

Marlot Meyer
Marcel de Jeu | Dept. of Neuroscience at Erasmus MC

A yellow octopus lies silently stranded on the floor, arms wide, its large head resting in the middle. Above it, seemingly tiny offspring hang invitingly from threads. These tiny cephalopods have sensors on their tentacles that they like to fold around visitors' heads or place on their necks. Once connected, the sensors appear to not only record the biodata of their wearers, but also provide feedback. They receive this from an intelligent machine that, while learning, discovers how we humans form patterns and communicate non-verbally aided by its mechanical computing power. 

A new form of embodied language that perceives and communicates the world more intuitively andnon-anthropocentrically is exactly what artist Marlot Meyer and neuroscientist Marcel de Jeu are looking for with their project Hacking Heuristics. They want to challenge and, if at all possible, break through our deep urge to control everything with our words and our eyes.

It is time to recognize that our language and visual culture are dominant and determine the nature and quality of our thoughts and actions. As a result, Meyer and De Jeu say, we now need a more multidisciplinary sense and holistic awareness to understand and respond to the complexities that have become part of our lives. With Hacking Heuristics, they therefore tune in to bodily sensations and unconscious responses in the prefrontal cortex, which may have hindered human survival in the past but might now offer a more inclusive, dynamic relationship with the world.

Unlike other human-machine research, Hacking Heuristics does not start with a pre-programmed machine that is given a command that already builds in an advance of output. Meyer and De Jeu are primarily concerned with genuine collaboration in which scientist, artist, audience and algorithm learn from each other and possibly find new forms of interaction.
In doing so, are we completely surrendering ourselves to technology, handing over the last vestige of what makes us human to an artificial intelligence, or are we instead seeking genuine mutual understanding in which both human intuition and machine intelligence are given space? 

Experiencing how others -humans and a machine- manipulate what you feel and think can cast doubt on who is in control. But it also puts into focus how much control we have over our own reactions anyway as opposed to how much is already influenced by technology or instinct. By hacking into our biological responses and learned reasoning, we can begin to see beyond what we cognitively think we know and potentially explore new meanings and interpretations of knowledge.

Additional credits
AI programming: Arran Lyon
Tech advise stimulation: Patrick Forbes