Artificial Intelligence, Avatars, and the Future

Most people first heard the word “avatar” from James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the top grossing films of all time. Some consider avatars an extension of the self that can save the world in the context of virtual reality or a video game. In Hinduism, avatars are considered incarnations of deities or immortals. The Hindu god Vishnu, for example, has many avatars, including the Buddha.

Helping to sort out the avatar conundrum and the fascinating field of artificial intelligence was a Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC last Wednesday night. The program—“A.I. and Avatar: The New Explorers,”— began with a head-spinning question: “Can machines and other avatars expand the human experience—and perhaps even take our minds to the stars?”

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Vanishing Perception With Magic

Master magician Prakash Puru took out a silver coin and held it with one hand. He snapped his fingers. In seconds the coin disappeared, only to reappear later by his elbow. Over and over again the coin vanished, much to the delight of a packed audience at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC.

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Tony Ro (left) and Prakash Puru (right). Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art.

Puru was invited to discuss the ways magicians manipulate perception to create illusions with neuroscientist Tony Ro. The Brainwave Series program, “Why Magicians are Master Manipulators,” focused on the neuroscience of perception and how its principles can be used to create magic.

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How to Perceive Without Sight

How is it that we construct our reality? What is it we think we know, and what do we actually know? These are questions that led Columbia University neuroscientist Jacqueline Gottlieb to a career studying attention, decision-making, and curiosity. And at Saturday’s Brainwave event at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC, we learned how these questions were addressed by someone who lost his sight at age 25.

At “How to Perceive Without Sight,” Gottlieb spoke with entrepreneur Isaac Lidsky, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the retina, at age 12. Prior to losing his vision, he already had achieved status as a child actor, lawyer, Supreme Court clerk, and a successful business owner. But when he lost his sight in early adulthood, he had to overcome depression and learn to shift his attention to his remaining senses to navigate the world around him.

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Isaac Lidsky, photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art

“It was an eye-opening process,” quipped Lidsky, who came to realize that his other senses provided him with “phenomenal” information. Rather than passively observing the world through sight as before, he now had to make a conscious effort to pay more attention to that other information.

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Listen to Your Ingredients

“For a marinara like this, the San Marzano tomato, grown on the hills of the volcano above Naples, Vesuvius, is about the best.”

That was just part of the advice offered up by Lidia Bastianich, who was recently featured at the Rubin Museum during the museum’s Brainwave series. The Italian-born American chef and psychobiologist Gary Beauchamp, PhD, explored the link between the brain and cooking in “What’s the Secret to a Great Home-Made Sauce.”

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Photo credit: Asya Danilova

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Tickets on Sale for Brainwave 2017: Perception

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Photo credit: Adam Ferguson

Tickets are now on sale to the public for the Rubin Museum of Art’s 2017 Brainwave series on perception. Based in New York City, this series, which runs from January 25 – April 29, pairs scientists and artists, celebrities, and other personalities for talks on topics related to the program theme.

As described on the Rubin Museum’s website:

“The tenth season of Brainwave will help us better understand the limits of our perception, allowing us to change our brains, unshackle ourselves from the past, and unleash creativity, growth, and inspiration.”

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