by Yonatan Ben-Simhon and Mushon Zer-Aviv

An experiment in machine learning & algorithmic prejudice



In the 1930s British Mathematician Alan Turing studied normal numbers. During World War 2 he cracked the Nazi Enigma code, and then laid the foundations for computing and artificial intelligence. In the 1950s he was convicted of homosexuality and was chemically castrated. And in June 7th 1954, depressed by the anti-homosexuality medical treatment, and alienated by the society who deemed him abnormal, Alan Turing ate a cyanide laced apple.

In the following decades many of Turing’s ideas have materialized through the digital revolution, while many of them are still being researched. Inspired by Turing’s life and research we seek to finally crack the greatest enigma of all:

“Who is normal?”

The Turing Normalizing Machine is an experimental research in machine-learning that identifies and analyzes the concept of social normalcy. Each participant is presented with a video line up of 4 previously recorded participants and is asked to point out the most normal-looking of the 4. The person selected is examined by the machine and is added to its algorithmically constructed image of normalcy. The kind participant’s video is then added as a new entry on the database.

As the database grows the Turing Normalizing Machine develops a more intricate model of normal-appearance, and moves us closer to our research goal: to once-and-for-all decode the mystery of what society deems “normal” and to automate the process for the advancement of science, commerce, security and society at large.

The abnormal,
while logically second,
is existentially first.

Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological, 1966.

Conducted and presented as a scientific experiment TNM challenges the participants to consider the outrageous proposition of algorithmic prejudice. The responses range from fear and outrage to laughter and ridicule, and finally to the alarming realization that we are set on a path towards wide systemic prejudice ironically initiated by its victim, Turing.

by Yonatan Ben-Simhon and Mushon Zer-Aviv. [contact]


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