Try out AI at MOHAI's 'Artificial Intelligence' exhibit

Try out AI at MOHAI’s ‘Artificial Intelligence’ exhibit

Exhibit review

Kids these days. They take spell check for granted. Thanks to Alexa and Siri, they’ll never suffer the indignity of not getting an instant answer to every obscure question. They might not even have to learn to drive, if autonomous vehicles catch on.

A new special exhibition at the Museum of History & Industry explores how AI developed over the years and how it has affected our lives. “Artificial Intelligence: Your Mind and the Machine” runs through Jan. 8. Seattle is the first West Coast stop for this traveling exhibit, created by the Relayer Group in New York.

AI is the attempt to create machines that simulate human intelligence. You’ll see how AI is used to fix real-world problems, and how it’s been portrayed in pop culture (like C-3PO and WALL-E).

The exhibit is tucked in a corner of the second floor of MOHAI. When we walked in, my first impression was … underwhelming. You’re greeted by a crowd of text-heavy panels, which is hard to digest for kids. Then we noticed screens — aha! — around the perimeter of the room and my kids were drawn like moths to a light.

I walked through the exhibit and diligently read all the copy; my kids just wanted to play on the screens, no surprise there. Their favorite interactive station was Pong, a basic video game where you’re playing Ping-Pong against a machine that uses mathematical predictions of where the moving ball will land. The machine is very good. When my kids finally beat the computer, they were so excited you would’ve thought they won Olympic gold.

The face-analyzing machine promises to guess your age, and I was game to test it out. When it guessed my age as 25-32, I was elated. (I’m 41.) Then I moved, and it recalibrated my age as 4-6.

There’s flattery, and then there’s absurdity.

AI can be amazing, astounding technology. But it’s not perfect. Sometimes it’s a hilarious fail.

At a station demonstrating speech recognition, you talk into the microphone, and the AI ​​will translate your speech into printed text. Except that it’s easily confused. When “Let’s go to MOHAI” got translated as “Let’s go to more high,” we couldn’t stop laughing.

Other stations show off AI’s many uses. AI can translate in real time: Show it a story written in Russian and it instantly translates into English. AI can recognize landmarks: Show it a photo and it’ll identify the longitude and latitude. AI can create art: It’ll transform a video still of you into a Cubist portrait.

Most of the screens are hands-on; a few play short videos. You can watch what a self-driving car “sees,” or how a robotic animal programmed with AI figures out how to deal with obstacles.

As with most of MOHAI, the AI ​​exhibit is best for elementary school-age kids and up, ie people who can read. The lone toddler in the exhibit could only reach the rainbow piano AI, and he was quickly strapped back into his stroller. FYI, there is a children’s play area on the third floor.

While MOHAI is a challenge for really young children, we have always loved exploring South Lake Union as a family. Pro tip: Parking is free all day Sundays, and on Sunday mornings, it’s usually no trouble to find a parking spot in the lots near MOHAI.

The kids always enjoy walking the docks and looking at all the different boats. It’s fun to watch a hot tub boat drift by, and a thrill to see seaplanes land and take off.

There’s a cute cafe inside MOHAI serving sandwiches, pastries and coffee for when you need fuel. Make a day of it. Just watch out for all the goose poop.

“Artificial Intelligence: Your Mind and the Machine”

Through Jan. 8; Museum of History & Industry, 860 Terry Ave., Seattle; $22 adults, $18 seniors, $17 students and military, free for ages 14 and under; mohai.org

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