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Deepfakes, chatbots and AI: San Francisco museum asks the hairy questions

San Francisco's Misalignment Museum, now with a pop-up at Chase Center, explores the positives and negatives of artificial intelligence through "thought-provoking art pieces" such as this sculpture of 15,000 paper clips. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Is technology good or evil? 

San Francisco’s Misalignment Museum is still wrestling with this question, which remains the art pop-up’s central theme some seven months after its debut in the Mission District. 

By seeking to reckon with the big questions of the current moment, the original two-room exhibition of AI-themed art fascinated journalists, technologists and artists. Now, the Misalignment Museum and its “thought-provoking art pieces and events” have returned. The reborn art and technology pop-up opens Thursday with a new temporary home at Chase Center’s Thrive City. It will occupy a space on Third Street through at least January. 

San Francisco’s Misalignment Museum takes up residence at Chase Center's Thrive City from September 2023 to January 2024. | Source: Courtesy Albert Law and Misalignment Museum

The museum’s mission remains the same, says the Misalignment Museum’s founder Audrey Kim. But this new iteration aims to keep pace with the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence by being a playful and contemplative space where people can develop informed opinions about the technology.              

“We’ve already crossed the tipping point where AI is here,” Kim said. “We need to figure out how everybody is brought into that world without breaking a lot of eggs and trying to be as focused on education as possible because it’s moving so rapidly.” 

San Francisco’s Misalignment Museum has a new temporary home at Chase Center's Thrive Center through January. | Source: Courtesy Albert Law and Misalignment Museum

To do that, the museum has brought back some of its greatest hits—including an army of animatronic “Spambots” typing out an AI-generated version of Brave New World and an AI-powered player piano that makes music in response to the growth of luminescent microorganisms. 

It’s also created new pieces that speak to recent technological developments.

For instance, at a photo booth under an arch of flowers, you can don a veil or top hat and “marry” an AI chatbot—as some have chosen to do. Every click of the camera not only documents the nuptials with a photo but also records the “marriage.”     

Audrey Kim, founder and curator of the Misalignment Museum, says the museum aims to be a neutral space where visitors can contemplate the pros and cons of artificial intelligence. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

“Over time, this bot is getting ‘married’ to hundreds of people,” said Kim.   

Another piece, installed in a vintage 1970s telephone booth, features a deepfake version of the voice of the late Fred Rogers, the beloved host of the PBS children's program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. It uses an amalgam of analog hardware and the latest speech-to-text, text-to-speech and large language model technologies to enable visitors to “talk” with Mister Rogers. The installation forces participants to grapple with the dangers of such technologies, which have recently been employed in scam attempts, and what it means for a voice to outlive its owner, Kim noted. 

“Broombas” maneuver around the Misalignment Museum during a media preview event in San Francisco on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

The museum also features AI-generated art collaborations with Canadian singer-songwriter Grimes, her brother Mac Boucher and a Ms. Pac-Man-style game coded by AI, which visitors can play as it evolves alongside a vintage Pac-Man arcade game.    

Returning pieces, like an enclosed kneeling prayer booth where the voice of an AI-generated God-like persona speaks to visitors about the “Church of GPT,” have been updated to run on newer software.  

The Misalignment Museum opens at Chase Center in San Francisco on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. The museum’s mission is to serve as a neutral space where people can learn about and explore the potential of AI technology. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

“It’s shocking that in just a couple months how much more advanced it is,” Kim said. “My goal is to constantly create new pieces as the tech develops.”

During this next run of the Misalignment Museum, Kim hopes to host frequent educational events, hackathons and town halls about technology and raise funds for a permanent home for the museum. 

The pop-up will be open on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. Entry is free, but a $10 donation is suggested; tickets can be reserved online in advance for $10 plus ticketing fees. 

Misalignment Museum 

📍Thrive City at Chase Center | 1699 Third St. (between 16th and Warriors Way)