Siri // La Messe Base with Aurora Nova

The central concept of Siri, using the iOS assistant AI to fulfil a speaking role in the performance, is intriguingly complicated by the biography of Laurence Dauphinais, the actor conversing with the disembodied voice of her phone. As one of the first Canadians created by artificial insemination, Dauphinais shares some unusual certainties about her conception – exact time and place, process and design – that echo the available information about the creation of Siri by Dag Kittlaus at the SRI Artifical Intelligence Centre. Two derivations of ‘AI’ are at play in Siri, artificial insemination as well as intelligence. Continually questioning her phone to answer the deeper, more emotionally resonant questions that arise from the bare facts of her creation provokes unnerving confluences and responses from the now-familiar voice from the phone. Dauphinais plays with this, the answers that might most approach a Turing-test pass instantly undone by repeated and carefully provoked stock answers.

Fragments of songs and films are used to give Siri the illusion of personality. Familiar touchstones like the homicidal HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a reference so familiar that it is actually built into the software of Siri itself, are used alongside the autobiography of the performer to question identity, intelligence and the nature of consciousness. As artificial intelligence arrives and becomes part of our lives, these questions become even more essential. Siri provides an anthropomorphisation of external supplementary memory. She is a deferral of the responsibility to remember numbers, the layout of cities or good restaurants near me, and a step towards the normalisation of everyday AI. The performance asks what it means to create it, and to accommodate it into our lives.

Just as Kittlaus saw his creation developed by another, the anonymous donor that provided half of Dauphinais’s genetic makeup is a spectre hanging over even the most technobabble dialogue. Dauphinais recounts how her home DNA test, an increasingly common postal swab, led her to a previously unknown relative and the potential of reconnection. The performance dwells on the risks of pursuing it, asking whether Dauphinais’s biological father might feel differently to now see his anonymous donation realised in a full person as complicated as any other, just as Kittlaus might not recognise the original goals of his creation in the program we carry around today. 

- Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Siri - CanadaHub at Summerhall

Turing Test

Siri Development

History of Artificial Insemination in Canada

The DNA Test as Horoscope - The Atlantic