Image credit: Ari Isenberg

Taken by Artificial Surprise 

Installation and performance series exploring surprise, magic and machine learning


On View: Thursday, July 28 - Sunday, July 31, 2022  • Performances: 7:30 pm (Approximately 20-30 minutes)

CultureLAB LIC: 5-25 46th Avenue, Long Island City, New York, NY 11101  


The Film:

The Installation:

The Interviews:

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This performance and installation series explores the relationships among magic, machine learning, and surprise as it welcomes attendees to step inside a thought experiment – a Turing Test of sorts. Taken by Artificial Surprise utilizes historic parlor magic to examine hierarchies of surprise and the human creation of surprise as compared and contrasted to that of machines. What might performances of the seemingly impossible demonstrate about the capabilities and limitations of both machine learning and the human mind? Andrews invites participants to think about whether surprise is a unique, defining factor of human consciousness and how the mechanisms that create surprise lie deep within the gaps of lived and learned personal and cultural experience. 


​The performance aspect of this work showcases magic effects with varying levels of surprise factors. The performance aspect of this work showcases magic effects with varying levels of surprise factors. Andrews presents historic pieces of magic alongside algorithmically generated magic effects that she has devised ways to perform in reality. Participants might find themselves a bit unsure as to which may be which.

In 1950, pioneering mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing wrote the seminal paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence." He drew inspiration from Victorian parlor games to imagine his own parlor-style amusement: the imitation game. This inspired the now-famous Turing Test and utilized the question, "can a machine take us by surprise?" as a way to investigate artificial intelligence. The installation references imagery from Victorian parlor games contrasted with a glossy, early technological ideal.

Andrews also notes that, “this project was inspired by my time as an Affiliate at metaLAB (at) Harvard. During this time I was fortunate to have encountered a diversity of ideas and research, and discourse with metaLAB members also greatly assisted the ideation process.” This work is made possible by Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc. and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature. 

The Images: