AI for girls: Active Interfaces features as part of Now or Never

AI for girls: Active Interfaces features as part of Now or Never
Rhonda Dredge

Algorithms and their mathematical systems drive the economy and now they are even part of arts festivals.

Marika Schwarz is a research fellow at Monash University’s Sensilabs with a feel for data.

She has been sitting in the local library for two weeks with a sewing machine and a mirror.

Her aim is to show girls that maths doesn’t have to be soul-destroying. It can bring comfort and even emotional pleasure.

“I think you won’t solve a problem by ignoring it,” she said. “It [AI] won’t go away. You can find playful and enjoying ways to use technology on your own terms.”

At the heart of the display for the Now and Never festival are devices aimed at showing that AI need not be controlling.

Marika is creating squares for a quilt, but she doesn’t have to sit at the sewing machine to embroider them.


The machine is controlled by an algorithm called perlon noise she has turned into stitch patterns and manipulated on her laptop.


“You won’t find any rules in this,” she said of a pattern that had started as a star and been disrupted by noise. “It’s all coincidental.”

Marika can sit thinking about creating beautiful patterns based on data without having to use a treadle or even move around the fabric.

“My mother taught me embroidery,” she said, but her career has moved into data and got her to the point of being paid to undertake research into how patterns can be generated.

Anyone who has created their own patterns for knitting and embroidery will enjoy a conversation with Marika.

When asked about boredom being a huge factor in repetitive knitting patterns, she called it “random noise”. Those who are doubtful about the normalising impact of AI, can have their emotional state read by a mirror that subverts facial recognition technology.

“Mirror Rituals challenges the paradigm in data science that sees human emotion as quantifiable,” a blurb by the artist claims. “The mirror perceives your emotional state by reading your facial expression and responds with text.”

If you stare into the mirror, it writes a little poem that appears on the surface. For Marika, it wrote: “you were composed of beads of sunlight.”

Active Interfaces is a creative attempt to get girls involved in algorithms and give them some entertainment as well as mastery.

Active Interfaces, Library at the Dock, until September 2. •

Join Our Facebook Group