Smart Hans /2021

Once there was a horse with an unbelievable skill. The horse was called “Clever Hans” because it could read people’s minds. The horse could guess any number you were thinking of. For example, if you had the number 84 on your mind, Clever Hans would look at you, tap its foot 84 times, and then stop.

How did Clever Hans do this? Of course, Clever Hans could not actually read your mind. But Clever Hans could analyze body postures. It saw the tension rising in your body when it started tapping, and it noticed the slight, irregular jerk of your head, when it reached your imagined number. This happened 100 years ago. Today, machines can do this too.



Clever Hans reading minds at a fair.

Our Project Smart Hans is a synthetic reincarnation of Clever Hans. The interactive installation shows an animated horse that can guess any number on your mind via posture recognition. This horse is fun to play with but it is also a manifestation of our concerns regarding Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Smart Hans is an intuitive warning about the potential threat of surveillance technology and Artificial Intelligence, which are increasingly being used in the public sphere. In a very personal way it shows the potential of AI to penetrate your most private space, your mind.

The installation manifests the “Clever-Hans-Effect”, which restricts the validity of almost any artificial neural network. Clever-Hans-Effect denominates the general impossibility to determine what a neural network actually learns respectively which data its decisions are based on.

On the other hand, if you play the game often enough, you will automatically become aware of the subtle cues Smart Hans is looking for. By purposefully suppressing or producing these cues any child can learn how to trick this AI.

Team: Anja Borowicz Richardson (UK), Bruce Gilchrist (UK), Max Haarich (Artistic Lead / DE), Martina Huynh (NL), Pekka Ollikainen (FI)

Project Smart Hans was incubated during the Deepfake Masterclass at Baltan Laboratories  in Eindhoven (NL) under guidance of Ellen Pearlman (US) and Julien Deswaef (NL) from ThoughtWorks Art  as well as Leif Czakai (NL) from Baltan Laboratories.