Lost in Computation

Jonas Eltes / Fabrica
*1993 in Kungsbacka (SE), lives and works in Treviso (IT)

»Lost in Computation«
2017, mixed-media installation, 2 screens, 2 Raspberry Pis

»Lost in Computation« is a multilingual conversation between two autonomous chatbots. Chatbots are computer programs, which can conduct humanlike dialogs via written text or audio processing. Their aim is to simulate humanlike conversations, and they are typically implemented in information exchange services, e-commerce platforms, and call centers. Chatbots used for these purposes are limited to conversations regarding a specialized purpose and not for the entire range of human communication.

In this work, two chatbots face each other. Trained in different languages, Swedish and German amongst them, the conversation simultaneously runs through »Google Translate«. The conversation runs on two small computers communicating with each other through a »Node.js« web server, using sockets for real-time communication between the two clients. The machine-learning algorithm of the chatbot highlights the level of sophistication bots have achieved, but also the absurdity of machine cognition, as the program is not able to appreciate the meaning of what is being talked about. 

Lost in Computation is one of the artworks realized by Fabrica residents to celebrate UN International Mother Language Day, inspired by the nature of Jonas Eltes’ own conversations with Italians during his residency at Fabrica.

Courtesy of Fabrica, Catena di Villorba


Daniel Heiss
* 1978 in Munich (DE), lives and works in Karlsruhe (DE)

2017, computer, monitor, microphone 

For decades, the interface between people and computers was limited to the input of text via a keyboard. The wish for a more intuitive and natural way to communicate with computers, however, goes back at least as many decades.

Only in recent years has direct interaction with computers through spoken language become possible due to tremendous progress in the areas of language recognition and processing (»Natural Language Processing«, NLP). Neural networks make it possible to transcribe the acoustic signal of human language word-for-word into text form. With the help of linguistic models (e.g. word embeddings), the recognized word groups can then be analyzed semantically in order to put the individual fragments in context. Modern algorithms make it possible to use this context to translate text into almost every language in the world in a fully automated way, effectively in real time.

The fictional Babel fish from Douglas Adams’ »The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy« is now within reach in real life.

Speak into the microphone and name the language into which your statement is to be translated. Along with the translation, every spoken word will be reproduced in a linear (one-dimensional) pixel display in the form of optical Morse code.


Lawrence Lek
*1982 in Frankfurt a. M. (DE), lives and works in London (GB)

»Sinofuturism (1839–2046 AD)«
2016, HD video essay, 60 min.

»Sinofuturism« is an invisible movement. A specter already embedded in a trillion industrial products, a billion individuals, and a million veiled narratives. It is a movement, not based on individuals, but on multiple overlapping flows. Flows of populations, of products, and of processes. Because »Sinofuturism« has arisen without conscious intention or authorship, it is often mistaken for contemporary China. But it is not. It is a science fiction that already exists.

»Sinofuturism« is a video essay combining elements of science fiction, documentary melodrama, social realism, and Chinese cosmologies, in order to critique the present-day dilemmas of China and the people of its diaspora.

In many Western media outlets, China is portrayed as exotic, orientalized »Other«; in its domestic media, China is portrayed as heroic and unified. But rather than counteracting these biased narratives, »Sinofuturism« presents a critical and playful approach to subverting cultural clichés. By embracing seven key stereotypes of Chinese society (computing, copying, gaming, studying, addiction, labor, and gambling), it shows how China’s technological development can be seen as a form of artificial intelligence.