How a Tinderbot reminds us of human connection

14.02.18
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Lady Chatterley’s Tinderbot, created by Libby Heaney, is an interactive installation displaying snippets of conversations between real Tinder users and an AI Tinderbot conversing only in dialogue taken from Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. It was shown in Science Gallery Dublin as part of HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY in 2017. In this blog post, Science Gallery Dublin mediator Jessica Foley tells us why it's one of her favourite exhibits. 

Several years ago, I interviewed at a prestigious British university to study English Literature. I was hopelessly out of place; my interview had been atrocious, and the other prospective students I met seemed to be on an entirely different planet than I (one boy told me earnestly of the time he burst into tears during an English exam because it was then that he realised “just how much I really loved English”). “These are not my people,” I thought glumly, sitting in the college common room after my interview.

I was wrong, of course, merely wallowing in self-pity — I was soon gratefully chatting to a girl who seemed perfectly friendly and down-to-earth, and had similar doubts over the coherence of her interview. While talking, she recommended to me the book she had brought along with her. Weeks later, when my application was duly rejected, I consoled myself by devouring this book — D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I loved it – it was racy, but classy in a distant, period-drama sort of way. The interview was eventually forgotten.

A few years later, working at Science Gallery Dublin, I was delighted by the inclusion of a piece called Lady Chatterley’s Tinderbot in the HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY exhibition, which discussed the pervasion of artificial intelligence in modern society. The installation quickly became my favourite artwork in the exhibition. The screenshots, so obviously taken from the dating app Tinder, immediately attracted visitors bearing grins of recognition; the bewildered responses of Tinder users to the dated (and often melodramatic) messages from the Tinderbot always drew laughs.

But several swipes through the snippets of conversation would reveal something a little more unexpected. Every once in a while, one of the Tinder users would seem to find a real connection with the bot, with quoted dialogue like its insistence that “I think people have been so unkind to you” somehow ringing true. This often had a slightly sobering effect on the visitors, with following snippets read a little more thoughtfully. It seemed that some people had really found solace in this strange use of Lawrence’s words, much as I had after my dismal university interview; perhaps even as I had in the book’s very recommendation to me. And so it seemed, at bottom, the bot served to remind us of human connection.

For more on HUMANS NEED NOT APPLY, click here to visit the exhibition microsite.

For more on artist Libby Heaney, click here; or come see her latest exhibit in FAKE, our upcoming exhibition on forgery, biomicicry and all things faux, open to the public at Science Gallery Dublin from 02.03.18 — 03.06.18.