Do bees dream of android beekeepers?

Stephanie Seungmin Kim
5 min readFeb 9, 2021
Synthetic Apiary, Neri Oxman and The Mediated Mattter Group, shown in AI exhibition

An apiary is a somewhere beehives are kept, where people raise bees to collect honey. Honeybees are important organisms in the ecosystem, and humans are greatly affected when the number of bees decreases (they have an important role in the pollination of fruits and vegetables, etc.). In one exhibition, I learned about the role of artificial intelligence and artificial beehives are playing in protecting bees:

So it works like this:

The robot apiary uses artificial intelligence to “listen” to the hives to determine colony health, strength, and behaviour as well as collect temperature, humidity, apiary weather conditions.
-> This allows a large-scale investigation of the bees’ behaviour, protecting the bees from danger such as viruses and hornets.
-> Therefore, the bees are protected and in the end (artificial intelligence) benefits humans.

This news is good because in recent years there has been much press covering how the massive decline in bee populations worldwide will affect us.

Since I have been reading some dystopian books and watched the film Ex Machina (2017), I have been thinking about artificial intelligence and creativity. I became curious whether my views have been changed since I saw the AI exhibition at the Barbican Centre in 2019. I was able to retrieve lots of information from the photographs and videos of the exhibition. Anyway, enough with the intro, let us jump into the world of AI exhibition.

AI exhibition

From experts talking about how the next generation’s relationship with AI, through different sci-fi animations that predicted some of the stories in advance there were many facets to the exhibition. These were all enveloped in these concave and convoluted mirror walls as if to reflect us, the exhibition was a universe of its own.

This exhibition was not all good news.

I stopped to read this letter signed by many pre-eminent signatories including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk,

“Dear Humankind,” began the letter.

Letter hung inside AI exhibition (2019)

“…the key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.”

It was a stark warning. How did we get to here?

Author touching a timechart in AI exhibition, looking at 2016, AlphaGo versus Lee Sedol match

I spent hours looking through the time chart — I stopped at how AlphaGo was playing the world champion of Go, a Korean player called Lee Sedol. What that meant compared with early developments like Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage’s early experiments in computing, or Alan Turing’s Enigma machine.

I especially loved the first part of the exhibition where the curator went back to ancient times — connecting AI to the human desire to animate inanimate things. Thus the study of animism was the start of this exhibition of AI at the Barbican.

Scenes from Imitation Game film and the enigma machine

Animism is then followed by stories of Frankenstein’s invention by Mary Shelley. She wrote the story of Dr Frankenstein as a competition between friends when she was on holiday with her husband and friends. I read the book again quite recently, and the way the narration changes among various voices somehow reminded me of how I can change the voice of my traffic navigation system from female to male — those animated voices we can change.

AI Exhibition installation showing scenes from Blade Runner, 1982 (Barbican Centre 2019)

These scenes from my favourite Blade Runner (1982)

Sci-fi films were a combination of research and imagination.

Told through some of the most prominent and cutting-edge research projects, from Deepmind, Jigsaw, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Computer Science Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Sony Computer Science Laboratories — they were presented alongside the artists who are embracing the new possibilities of AI in their work.

Timechart within AI exhibition, Barbican Centre, 2019

This time chart shows 1968 — the year Minsky advised Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This connects with another exhibition I saw — Stanley Kubrick. Inside the Design Museum’s exhibition of Stanley Kubrick, I was blown away by his obsessive attention to detail as well as by how involved he was in every part of the filmmaking process.

The exhibition’s design was equally beautiful — done by Pentagram, which I really think is one of the best design firms now, based in London.

Stanley Kubrick exhibition entrance (2019)

This entrance echoed Kubrick’s famous camera technique of one-point perspective.

These screens repeated Kubrick’s most iconic films edited by Pentagram.

Fuller video

And then I entered the world of Kubrick. How he scribbled, categorised the massive archive, scripts and shooting storyboards and sets and his relationship with another great mind, Steven Spielberg.

Featuring about 700 objects, films and interviews, the exhibition brings to the fore Kubrick’s innovative spirit and fascination with all aspects of design, depicting the in-depth level of detail that he put into each of his films. From predicting the modern tablet and defining the aesthetic of space exploration a year before the moon landing in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to the use of NASA-manufactured lenses to film by candlelight in Barry Lyndon (1975), Kubrick was just as much an inventor as a filmmaker.

I was straddling between his mind and behind the scenes of the shooting of the most famous films of Kubrick.

It was in London that Kubrick created the battlefields of Vietnam for Full Metal Jacket, an orbiting space station for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr Strangelove’s War Room.

Inside Stanley Kubrick exhibition (2019) at London Design Museum

London was the canvas for his endless inventions.

It is in London again that I am lost, mesmerised and inspired.

No wonder I can’t leave London, even in this lockdown with empty streets.

Stephanie Seungmin Kim PhD.

Empty streets of Soho London & London at night