When art imitates IT

While the term installation is typically reserved for things like ERP, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum is giving it new meaning. The museum is treating technology the same way the Guggenheim would treat the latest work by Christo, Bill Viola or any other modern artist.

For US$5, visitors can spend a few hours walking through the galleries and seeing installations of artifacts from the history of information technology, artificial intelligence and MIT itself. Exhibits include the first LISP computer, which looks like the back of a small refrigerator spray-painted neon blue; Phantom, a computer interface that simulates the sense of touch; complex holograms; and even the air-tank pranksters used to inflate a weather balloon in the middle of the 1982 Harvard-Yale football game.

The one knock is that visitors don’t get to interact with the exhibits. This especially takes away from the artificial intelligence section of the museum. Reading about and seeing a video on Kismet, a robot whose facial expression changes based on the tone of voice of the person speaking to it, and then seeing the actual doll protected from all human sounds by two-inch-thick glass is downright frustrating. Maybe that’s payback for all the teasing that curators and artists took in high school.