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Do You Like Cyber?

Do You Like Cyber?, 2017. Site-specific sound installation with three robotic parametric speakers. Variable dimensions.

Do You Like Cyber? is a sound installation composed of three parametric speakers attached to swiveling robotic arms. Parametric speakers are similar to lasers in that they radiate sound in a single focused direction – as opposed to conventional speakers, which spread the sound in all directions. Additionally, the sound bounces off hard surfaces such as walls, creating virtual sound sources and making it difficult to detect its origin.

Playing with the idea of deceitful messages, the speakers in Do You Like Cyber? broadcast a series of short audio messages that were used by bots on the dating website Ashley Madison, which I retrieved after the site was hacked. These bots were programmed to engage the website’s users in online chats, getting them to subscribe to the website’s services. Despite the fact that the bots were designed to only contact males, they didn’t always function as they should have. This work focuses on a series of insubordinate bots that, in a post-anthropocentric fashion, displayed anarchic and unpredictable behaviors, such as chatting with each other for no apparent reason or contacting female users even if they weren’t programmed to do so. Do you like Cyber? puts the autonomy and interaction between artificial entities at its center, while leaving humans only partially aware of their presence. The public will be both engaged and eluded by the rhythmic movements of the arms and a fragmented symphony of broken conversations that, bouncing from one side to the other of the exhibition space, transform a networked activity into a sensorial experience.

INSTALLATION AT MAXXI – Museo delle arti del XXI secolo




Complete list of messages used by Ashley Madison’s bots included in the sound installation:

/ are you logged in? / care to chat? / I’m online now / I’m here | come chat 🙂 / come say hello / my chat is on now / are you online? / Feel like chatting? / chat now? / do you like cyber? / cyber sex ? / care to cyber? / u into cyber? / How are you? Feel like chatting? / cybering good with you? / how’s your day? wanna chat? / wanna cyber? / want to sex chat? / how’s your cyber skills 😉 / are you at your computer? / So how long have you been here? Met any interesting people? /


It is not difficult to foresee the coming of a world in which artificial intelligence (AI) has advanced to the point that creativity has moved from its current anthropocentric position, with humans at the heart of all creative endeavors, to a ‘machinocentric’ or ‘post-anthropocentric’ regime, with machine intelligence as an alternative and independent pole of creative nonhuman production. A regime of autonomous, electronic and post-anthropocentric intensities could free many creative spaces from the currently unrivaled domain of humans. Such occurrence, of course, may never take place. Or it could already be under way, because different kinds of consciousness may coexist without being aware of one another, with human and nonhuman intelligences failing to recognize each other.

Most people, for example, seem to agree on recognizing the mental life and even the self-consciousness of different kinds of mammals, and yet as soon as we are asked to consider forms of life like trees or bacteria, our attitude starts to shift towards skepticism. Tentatives to move beyond this framework have been formulated, for example, in Jane Bennett’s ‘vibrant matter’ of human and nonhuman assemblages. And we are certainly entangled in complex media assemblages of human and nonhuman intelligence. These, in turn, inform complex ‘cloud-based’ entanglements of networked things and operations, almost mirroring Clark and Chalmer’s ‘extended mind’ thesis, according to which storing information in external memory devices allows off-loading of some of the burden of internal cognitive processes.

And while the rise of autonomous AI may be as swift as unpredictable, artificial intelligence may not resemble human intelligence at all. A self-conscious AI may not look like Kurzweil’s Singularity. Instead, it may resemble systems like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Amazon’s Alexa. Or it could unfold itself more secretly, unseen and undetected, in the folds of networked environments like dating websites, as I speculate in my art project Do You Like Cyber? based on a series of online Bots that displayed unexpected and insubordinate behaviors. A self-conscious AI could stem from enormous systems that already escape full human oversight, such as the assemblages of satellites, sensors, software and models that compose global weather prediction systems; or it could develop out of an AI neural network used for self-driving cars; or even from an AI system involved with fast trading in the stock market.

In 1992, John Searle had isolated a certain set of features that define consciousness, and none of them excluded a priori a sufficiently advanced AI from manifesting consciousness. Searle also wrote that the most important scientific discovery of our era ‘will come when someone […] discovers [how] neurobiological processes in the brain cause consciousness.’ But we currently cannot explain why any physical state is conscious rather than nonconscious, and we are not even sure that neurobiological processes are the only origin for consciousness. Consciousness still marks the limits of what a science that puts humans at its center can explain, and rather than asking if a certain AI is or could become self-conscious we should redraw the boundaries of what terms like ‘intelligence’ and ‘consciousness’ encompass, in order to better account for the processes of autonomous nonhuman agents.

Furthermore, no matter how advanced our analytical models and research frameworks become, the question of self-conscious AI seems destined to remain a mystery to us, precisely as the consciousness of other living creatures is. It may be useful to reference Thomas Nagel’s 1974 argument about the ‘consciousness of the bat,’ according to which no amount of data will provide us with the knowledge of what it means to be a bat, for the bat, given that we do not share the point of view of a creature able to fly and echolocate. Following Nagel, we could extend such a question to any AI, weak or strong, narrow or complex: ‘what is it like to be a computer bot,’ we could ask, ‘from the perspective of a computer bot?’ While AI systems are often considered advanced computer programming and self-conscious AI are still just hypothetical, the reality is that we do not know how to recognize a self-conscious AI, let alone prepare for the legal, ontological, metaphysical, artistic and ethical consequences that we would face if we accidentally recognized one.


  • MAXXI – Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Low Form. Imaginaries and Visions in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, Rome, Italy
  • Niet Normaal FoundationRobot Love, curated by Ine Gervais, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • (2017 – Solo Exhibition) RE-CAPTURE: Room(s) for ImperfectionGALLLERIAPIÙ (part of THE WRONG – New Digital Art Biennale), curated by Federica Patti, Bologna, Italy
  • (2017) A&SM, The Sensorium, curated by Dean Todd and Mikey Georgeson, The University of East London, UK
  • (2017) Against the Slow Cancellation of the Future, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK
  • (2017) 30th Stuttgarter Filmwinter – Festival of Expanded Media, curated by Wand 5, Kunstbezirk, Stuttgart, Germany
  • (2017) ADAF – 13th Athens Digital Arts Festival#PostFuture, curated by Elli-Anna Peristeraki, Athens, Greece



Low Form. Imaginaries and Visions in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. 
“Emilio Vavarella: Visual Essay”
Catalogue of exhibition at MAXXI – Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo. Published by CURA. 2018. (ita-eng)
Low Form. Imaginaries and Visions in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. 
“What is it Like for a Computer Bot to be a Computer Bot?”
Catalogue of exhibition at MAXXI – Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo. Published by CURA. 2018. (ita-eng)
Robot Love
“Do You Like Cyber?”
Catalogue of Exhibition, 2018. (eng)
Technoculture. (Unità di Ricerca sulle Tecnoculture, Università degli Studi di Napoli ‘L’Orientale’). 
“Di cosa parlano i chatbot quando parlano fra loro?”
2017. (ita)
2018. (ita)
Curatorial text.
“RE-CAPTURE: Room(s) for Imperfection” by Federica Patti.
2017 (ita-eng)
Juliet Art Magazine
“Emilio Vavarella: RE-CAPTURE: Room(s) for Imperfection”
2017. (ita-eng)
“Errori e tecnologia: Emilio Vavarella a Bologna”
2017. (ita)


Wall Street International Magazine
“Re-Capture. Room (s) for Imperfection. Solo show di Emilio Vavarella”
2017. (ita)
“Intervista con Emilio Vavarella”
2018. (ita)


  • The Ashley Madison database includes 857 mysterious lesbian fembots profiles and in 69 occasions these fembots messaged each other.
  • Special thanks to Annalee Newitz for her help with interpreting the bot-related data and to Kevin Ramsay for the sound editing.
  • Developed with the support of a Critical Media Practice Mellon Grant from the Film Study Center at Harvard University and additional support from GALLLERIAPIÙ.
  • Photo courtesy: © Musacchio Ianniello per Fondazione MAXXI and © Stefano Maniero per GALLLERIAPIÙ.