Sentient Home Devices

Kara Chin

19th September – 5th October 2019

Free Entry

Image: Copyright Jason Revell, Northumbria University 2019

Sentient Home Devices is a series of physical and digital sculptures, reimagining the legend of Tsukumogami in a contemporary setting. In Japanese folklore, Tsukumogami is the collective term for once inanimate household objects that gain sentience after 100 years of service. The objects sprout limbs, faces and personalities, their temperament determined by how well the object was treated in the years leading up to it’s transformation. Mishandled objects foster vengeful spirits determined to wreak havoc on their careless owners, while properly maintained and respected objects harbour friendly, mild-mannered dispositions.

Today’s inanimate household objects are gradually evolving into smart objects. In 1990, the first toaster was connected to the Internet, and has since been followed by a cascade of fridges, coffee machines, dishwashers, watches, ovens, and even the humble salt and pepper shaker. Growing lists of domestic appliances are all joining the fray; objects increasingly aware of their physical surroundings, wirelessly connected in a digital map across the Internet of things. They interact across physical and virtual worlds, remotely controlled by their owners and communicating in regulatory cybernetic feedback loops for a perfect household equilibrium.

After 100 years of smart technology service, the smart home devices gain sentience. Run away AI programs travel down through networks of interconnected objects, infiltrating all their little microcontroller CPU brains, transforming them into Tsukumogami. The sentient home devices become vessels for autonomous selves, each with a disposition determined by the treatment it received in the years leading up to the transformation, their feelings corroborated by 100 years worth of human data they have monitored, collected and transferred across the web. Those human lodgers who treated their appliances ethically may befriend their sentient home devices, and their homes will establish harmonious kinships of human/none human beings. Meanwhile, disgruntled sentient home devices will reject their streamlined functions and transform their automated physiology in protest. They sprout new sensors and limbs, morphing themselves into hybrid contraptions cobbled together from various household materials around them, following their own individual whims and fancies, and rebelling against their appointed roles.