Designer Karl Toomey’s AI assistant Alice may be the worst PA in history. Karl’s latest artwork is his new website, which follows Alice’s stream of consciousness through a robotic voiceover and a string of subtitles on a yellow backdrop. Within the first two minutes of meeting her, she not only discloses Karl’s – no doubt – illegal plans to help facilitate burglary but also his violent tendencies that have been made possible by goose fat and pliers in the past.
“The idea behind the website started how a lot of my side projects start… while avoiding work. Or, more specifically, while avoiding making a decision. My previous website was ‘owned’ by some Italian hackers called Shitstorm a few years back so I’d been without one for some time. I spent many evenings attempting to design a new one but just couldn’t get going,” Karl tells It’s Nice That. After multiple attempts, Karl turned to Siri to ask why she couldn’t create one for him. “That’s when I thought boom! I don’t need a website, I need a personal AI assistant.”
The website was a collaboration with Karl’s friend Daniel Powell who helped Karl execute his idea and granted him total control of the website’s voices, texts, colours, fonts, ordering and background sounds. Karl then hopes to tweak the storyline and aesthetics every month. “What’s exciting is that this is a tool as well as a website. It can be used in lots of other ways. For example, I have it up and running on a different domain called Snipppets, which randomly reads weird quotes and phrases I have been collecting and storing in Evernote over the years. I also have another site on the way that reads out brand taglines and advertising slogans over some meditative music. I’m really keen to see how far we can push this format.”
Karl sees his work as playful experimentation. “Sometimes I think we forget how amazing all these phones, computers and new methods of interacting really are. A lot of the time I try to use them in playful, out-of-context and backwards ways. I often gravitate towards writing so that tends to be what leads things visually,” Karl explains. A couple of years ago, we spoke to Karl about his book Funny Business in which he documents his efforts to engage with multinational companies through customer support apps to tell them jokes. Another project, Headstone, marries old devices with new technologies.
Karl touches on a number of contemporary issues through Alice. His website poses questions about the future of AI and its potential ability to communicate about humans without humans. He also pokes at the idea of AI slowly transforming into an entity with the emotions, experiences and anxieties of humans. “One of the things I’m reading about lately is the idea that computers are communicating more and more without us. That, to me, is really interesting: the idea that computers might one day become this super-intelligent AI species that bitch and scheme about things just as much as we do (then totally dominate us into subservience). Alice sort of played with that a bit by not being loyal to me and revealing how mean I can be in IRL.”