You walk into a large gallery. On one side of the room are photos and paintings of malnourished and suffering people. On the other side of the room are photos and paintings of malnourished and suffering dogs. There’s also related audio, video, written backstories, and media.
You explore the room for a little while, then move on to the next room.
In the next room there is a large projection screen with photos and statistics. The photos are of each visitor, including you. Beside each photo is the amount of time you spent looking at the dogs and the amount of time you spent looking at the people, what you focused on the most and the least, and the type and strength of your reactions to each thing you gave your attention to. (It case this seems futuristic, you might be surprised to know that some retailers already do this. Websites have done this for decades).
Artists have always tried to challenge the patron and redirect their attention to causes or beliefs that the artist felt were important. The artist’s agenda of the suffering exhibit above was to show the difference between the attention we give to suffering dogs and suffering people but it could have been a contrast of attention given to any subjects.
If one of the purposes of art is to cause people to reflect, then AI can be an artistic tool to add yet another reflection. No longer does the experience of art have to be limited to you reflecting on the art. Now you can observe your reactions to the art and reflect on those reactions.
The aim is to put us the patrons in a situation and show the truth about our behavior so that we can reflect. If we weren’t mindful and in the moment, the AI can rewind the moment and replay it for us. Our attention is the most precious resource we have and art can help us reflect on how we use it.
Maybe, when you arrive, you’re invited to wear a wristband or some other device. Now your stats might include heart rate, which areas of your brain were activated, body temperature and other feedback. You can force yourself to look at the stuff you “should” but what effect does it *really* have on you?
Let’s suppose patrons know that at the end of the exhibit they will he shown what the have reflected on. They also have a sense that some of the things are the “right” things to look at and that it’s all a sort of weird test. Knowing that their attention stats will be publicly shared they want to look like a good and moral person to others. So despite some natural inclinations, they try to “beat the system” by looking at the “right” things. Is that a problem? I don’t think so. Because now they are looking at the right things.
The implementation of this AI for Reflection idea could be done with a strong agenda or with a loose agenda, or anywhere in between. The stronger the agenda, the more some patrons might feel tricked or goaded or judged. The weaker the agenda, the more some patrons might feel the experience is a novelty (“According to our stats: you really like to look at blue things!”). If the mission is to persuade people to reflect honestly then designing the experience such that it provides the right psychological invitation is paramount and should not be given short shrift.
While the title of this post is Moral Reflection in Museums, the idea could be generalized to any kind of reflection in any environment. The idea of an Empirical Reflection Space might be a whole Third Place in and of itself.