Les voix is a new public artwork conceived by Nicolas Grenier in collaboration with MASSIVart and Sid Lee Architecture. It is presented in a commercial space transformed into an exhibition venue at Place Ville Marie’s Galerie PVM, in the heart of downtown Montreal. This is Part 2 of Prémonitions, a project that invites us to explore different ways of interpreting our times, examining the influence of technology, and imagining the future that lies ahead. Let us recall that Nicolas Grenier has exhibited, among other places, at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, and the Triennale d’art et d’architecture de Bruges (Belgium). The project is part of the initiative “I love working downtown” powered by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, supported by the Ministère de l’Économie, de l’Innovation et de l’Énergie and hosted at Nouveau Centre by Ivanhoé Cambridge.
Place Ville-Marie, Montreal
6 July – 16 September 2023
Les voix explores the gray area between human and machine, mind and body. The work confronts us with the following question: when we talk to an artificial intelligence, what is this voice that speaks to us in the first person singular? Les voix challenges us to explore the complexity of this question in an immersive environment, where the public can interact with a Large Language Model (AI) through a human interface. This interface, consisting of an interpreter whose voice and body incarnate a text generated by the AI, then becomes an ambiguous dual entity, with which the audience is invited to engage in a face-to-face conversation. Thus, the digital interface that characterizes our interactions with virtual assistants and other AIs is here transformed into an interpersonal exchange, confronting us with the embodied presence of a non-human intelligence. Following the interaction, audiences are encouraged to stay in the space, leave a comment, observe subsequent conversations, and discuss with other audience members their respective experiences in relation to these rapidly evolving technologies. At the heart of Les Voix is the creation of a space in which audiences, regardless of their experience of art or technology, are able to consider together one of the most striking and paradigm-shifting digital innovations in recent history.
Les voix continues artist Nicolas Grenier’s decade-long exploration of social transformations, paradigm shifts and power structures. His research has led him to investigate how these issues are expressed systemically, and to create works that give tangible form to speculative visions of possible futures.
Artificial intelligence directly addresses all of these issues, and heralds a wave of change of exponential speed and magnitude, possibly unprecedented in human history. Goldman Sachs estimates that about 2/3 of jobs in the US and Europe will be affected by AI, and that generative AI could expose 300 million jobs to automation. Yet, as AI manifests across diverse spheres of activity, thousands of experts worried about the as of yet unknown impact of AI have recently signed an open letter calling for an immediate pause its development. The open letter highlights that whilst intelligent systems may have transformative potential, to many the technology itself remains mysterious, and the uses to which it can be put are worrying.
With Les voix, Nicolas Grenier chose to address the most concrete and common manifestation of AI, the virtual assistant. By inviting audiences to converse with a modified version of ChatGPT, Open AI’s viral chatbot, brought to life by a human interface , Les voix aims to manifest in a concrete, tangible and embodied way a technology that is by nature virtual, intangible and disembodied.
Les voix is collective, and ever-evolving. The project was made possible by working with a team of interpreters who learned to collaborate with the technology, in order to let their respective voices become, literally, Les voix. Using regular feedback provided by the interpreters over the duration of the project (10 weeks), the AI’s response behavior will be progressively modified to reflect their respective embodied experiences, simulating how an artificial subjectivity may arise and evolve. Visitors coming several times might notice a change in the behavior of the AI, highlighting the ambiguity of the overlapping of human and AI in a single entity, and challenging the misconception that algorithms are neutral, objective, or unbiased.
By installing Les voix in a public shopping mall rather than a gallery, the work presents itself as a space for encounter, questions, and open exploration. In addition, a complementary program of public discussions in the form of specific events will allow us to contextualize the evolution of the work in relation to current events, and to collectively discuss specific issues related to artificial intelligence. Thus, like its development, the work is not intended to offer a “result,” but rather a process that calls us to familiarize ourselves with a foreign entity in constant evolution.
Nicolas Genrier says: As I became more familiar with generative AI, like so many other artists, I became increasingly aware of the multitudes of voices speaking through the generated content. These voices come from the gigantic datasets of human-made content, from which recognizable identities emerge from time to time, but also the encoded speech patterns built by engineers, the normative standards imposed by the demands of a global industry, the algorithmic nudge that may be introduced by a for-profit company, the echo of my own voice, and an unknown part of mystery coming from complex mechanisms of neural networks. So, when AI assistants speak in the first person singular, I always wonder: what am I to make of its anthropomorphic “I”? How will this voice evolve in the next years, in the next decades? What kind of relationship will we develop with it?
Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal says: “The Chamber is proud to support the production of Les Voix, a one-of-a-kind experience that highlights one of Montréal’s unique strengths: artificial intelligence. It is installed alongside two other ‘I love working downtown’ projects, the Ring and the Stations d’été workspaces, establishing Place Ville Marie as the gathering place of choice. This set of installations contributes to making our city a must-see destination for workers and visitors alike.”
Premonitions: Les voix is free and open to the public from Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am to 5 pm. Artistic mediators are present to enhance the experience. To guarantee a conversation with the embodied AI, we encourage you to reserve your place: www.premonitions.ai