Nybble at the V&A Museum
A performance at the V&A Museum. olliepalmer.com/nybble


In 1984, philosopher John Searle asserted that there can be no such thing as “hard” artificial intelligence through the now-famous Chinese Room argument. Searle asked whether a non-Chinese speaker, locked in a room with nothing but a book with instructions for translating one Chinese symbol into another – and given the task of translating Chinese symbols passed to him on slips of paper – could ever truly learn Chinese.

The answer, according to Searle, is “no”. There is no difference between the process that the person in the Chinese room is following (i.e. manipulating symbols according to a pre-fixed routine) and the information transfer in computer systems. Thus, Searle argues, if the man in the Chinese room could never learn the meaning of the symbols he is changing, no computer could truly learn the meaning of the symbols it is manipulating, and thus, there can be no “hard” artificial intelligence.

More about the Chinese Room

This installation is a diagram of Searle’s argument; a human-computer, comprised of four dancers and an unseen controller, parse a coded message. Only the public, who are given code-sheets, can read the message over the course of a 45-minute dance. In computing terms a “Nybble” is half a byte of information – that is, four bits (or dancers). Nybble was commissioned for the V&A Museum’s Digital Design Weekend 2013, part of London Design Festival. It was funded by Design With Heritage, an AHRC Creative Economies Project between the V&A Museum and University College London.


PROJECT - Ollie Palmer

PRODUCTION - Abi Palmer, David DiDuca, Clio Heslop, Stephen Gage

COSTUME DESIGN - Magdalena Gustafsson

DANCERS - Anastassia Bezerko, Maria Fonseca, Raimu Itfum, Olamide James, Alexandra Katana, Roberto Leo, Monica Nicolaides, Ughetta Pratesi, Prisca Pugnetti, Rudi Salpietra, Kathryn Spence

CASTING - Andrea Mongenie

PHOTOGRAPHY - Danielle Willkens, Fiona Williams, Bernadette Devilat

THANKS - Amy Thomas, the staff at the V&A Museum
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