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The Belgian photographer Wanda Tuerlinckx documents, through her fascinating series Androids, this technological revolution that is transforming society and the relationship between man and machine.

AndroidU ©Wanda Tuerlinckx

The work of Wanda Tuerlinckx is impressive, both in content and form. This 54-year-old Belgian photographer, based in Amsterdam, brings together the worlds of art, technology, and science. If she became known in the 1990s through her various portraits (Ajax soccer players, veiled women in the Netherlands), it is especially through her Androids series that her work stands out, documenting this “fourth industrial revolution,” which, for the first time in history, is beginning to give robots a real existence. Research and a journey around the world that she has undertaken for almost ten years with Erwin R. Boer, professor of cognitive robotics at the Delft University of Technology.

Erica ©Wanda Tuerlinckx

Paradigm shift

Both have investigated the “Uncanny Valley” phenomenon, described by roboticist Masahiro Mori, where he outlines his vision of this “uncanny valley” where “the more a robot resembles a human, the more monstrous its flaws appear.” Distortions caused by “unrealistic human expectations projected onto these highly advanced machines”; making them both intriguing and strange, fascinating, and terrifying beings. “Some of the sculpted faces look, speak, move and, at an increasingly rapid pace, even think like us,” Wanda Tuerlinckx explains in her project statement. “As robots are integrated into many aspects of our daily lives, we observe how they reach human potential.” But what makes her work unique is also the unusual tool she uses: a wooden camera from 1880. She merges past, present, and future into a single image, inspired by the calotype technique introduced by photographer William Henry Fox Talbot. Through this process, she arouses the viewer’s emotion between acceptance and rejection, while questioning the ethical and social implications of human embodiment.

BINA48 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx

Human-machine interaction

Sophia, BINA48, Ai-Da, Android U, and Erica are androids that really exist and that she presents to us here within her rich gallery. The first is modelled on the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, Audrey Hepburn, and Amanda Hanson, the wife of its inventor David Hanson. This public figure gives interviews on various media platforms. The second is physically inspired by Bina Aspen Rothblatt, the wife of lawyer and businesswoman Martine Rothblatt. She was given a “mental file” compiled after more than 100 hours of conversations with her. The third is the world’s first ultra-realistic humanoid robot that creates drawings, paintings, and sculptures. She was invented by gallery owner Aidan Meller and named after Ada Lovelace, a 19th century mathematician. The fourth is an autonomous conversational robot dedicated to a popular Japanese website. The fifth is developed as a research platform to study human-robot interaction with the appeal of a female face. Ultimately, as Wanda Tuerlinckx puts it, “this convolution of robotics, artificial intelligence, and material science allows designers and researchers to experiment with the ultimate question: what does it mean to be human?

Sophia ©Wanda Tuerlinckx

Nathalie Dassa

“The development of robots over the centuries has been a dual purpose,” explains Wanda Tuerlinckx. “On the one hand, the development of robots is fueled by the economic need of societies to be cheaper, faster, and safer. On the other hand, it has been filled by human curiosity to understand what it means to be human.”

Photo credits

Sophia. Hanson Robotics Ltd Hong Kong 2016 © Wanda Tuerlinckx

BINA48. TMF Vermont United States 2018 © Wanda Tuerlinckx

Aï-Da. Oxford United Kingdom 2019 © Wanda Tuerlinckx

Android U. Osaka University Kyoto Japan 2017 © Wanda Tuerlinckx

Erica, Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, Kyoto, Japan, 2016 © Wanda Tuerlinckx