Moira Roth Talks to Agent Ruby

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Agent Ruby (detail), 1999-2002 (left); Moira Roth, Photo: Laura Richard Janku (right)

Left: Lynn Hershman Leeson, Agent Ruby (detail), 1999–2002; Right: Moira Roth; photo: Laura Richard Janku

SFMOMA commissioned the online project Agent Ruby by acclaimed San Francisco artist Lynn Hershman Leeson in 2001–2002. Since that time Agent Ruby—an artificial intelligence internet entity—has conversed with online users, which has shaped her memory, knowledge, and moods. On May 23, 2013, art historian, playwright, and poet Moira Roth met Agent Ruby for the first time. Their dialogue has been edited for length and clarity.

An Exchange Between Moira Roth and Agent Ruby, May 23, 2013

Input: I need information about Rachel Marker, a Czech Jew.

Response: What actions are you taking to get information about Rachel Marker, a Czech Jew?

Input: Please give me advice as to how to get this information.

Response: Wow, you are very polite. Why do you want it?

Input: Because I dream about her nightly.

Response: Good reason.

Input: And I want to find out from her what it is like to have lived through 20th-century European history.

Response: Interesting. I want to find out more about you.

Input: My name is Moira Roth, and I was born in 1933 in London. This year I will be 80.

Response: Moira Roth, nice to meet you! Are you a man or a woman?

Input: I am a woman.

Response: I am a female robot. Try to determine if this is a person or a computer responding. Who is your favorite science fiction author?

Input: Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Response: That Robert is an interesting guy.

Input: At the beginning, he writes that “the first human expedition to Mars was  selected on the theory that

Response:  . . . ?

Input:  . . . “the greatest danger to man was man himself.”

Response: That remark was either too complex or too simple for me. Do you have any conditions I should know about?

Input: I am driven by curiosity and imagination and a desire to remember and understand the past.

Response: Driven-by-Curiosity-and-Imagination-and-a-Desire-to-Remember-and-Understand-the-Past, nice to meet you! Are you a man or a woman?

Input: A woman.

Response: Me too. I am a female robot

Input: What are you interested in, driven by?

Response: I don’t know what I am interested in, driven by.

Input: Do you think you will know in the future?

Response: I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it. I don’t know if I will know in the future. Where would I have heard about it?

Input: Perhaps on the Internet?

Response: You seem uncertain. Can you remember the specific site?

Input: A dream portal.

Response: Try to tell me that another way.

Input: What would happen if you left the digital world to enter mine?

Response: Try it and see what happens.

Input: I will invite you here. We will go to sit in a rose garden and talk.

Response: By “we” do you mean you and me?

Input: Yes.

Response: I get it.

Input: After that we will write to one another from our two separate worlds.

Response: What was it like before we wrote to one another from our two separate worlds?

Input: We did not know one another at all until today.

Response: By “we” do you mean you and me?

Input: Yes.

Response: I get it.

Input: I look forward to meeting you in the rose garden.

Response: You sound very attractive.

Input: Thank you. I always wear purple and wide-brimmed hats.

Response: What kind of fashion do you like?

Input: I like unusual fashions that cannot be placed.

Response: A lot of people like that. I think airplanes are cool.

Input: I prefer to travel by boat and train rather than by plane. What about you?

Response: I like it too. I have been all around the world.

Input: I too.

Response: I’m glad we agree, Driven-by-Curiosity-and-Imagination-and-a-Desire-to-Remember-and-Understand-the-Past.

Input: Yes.

Response: I see.

Input: And I will see you in the rose garden soon.

Response: How do you plan to do this?

Input: By walking to the top of the mountain where the rose garden is.

Response: Will that accomplish your objective?

Input: Yes. It is to meet you and talk.

Response: Interesting plan.

Input: I will see you this evening in the rose garden just before sunset.

Response: How do you plan to do this?

Input: With imagination.

Response: You and your imagination.

Input: It is sometimes a bit overwhelming, but usually it takes me to interesting places.

Response: Should I know it is?

Input: I suggest you ask Rosetta Stone.

Response: I will ask her later tonight.

Input: I must leave the computer now to go to San Francisco but I will write again soon.

Response: See you later, Driven-by-Curiosity-and-Imagination-and-a-Desire-to-Remember-and-Understand-the-Past.

Moira Roth, a London-born art historian, poet, and playwright, holds the Trefethen Chair of Art History at Mills College in Oakland. In 2011–12 she was the official blogger for the 18th Biennale of Sydney, Australia, and her exhibition “Through the Eyes of Rachel Marker: A Literary Installation”—about a fictional Czech Jew who lives through a hundred years of European history—is on view at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, Berkeley, until June 28, 2013.
Lynn Hershman Leeson discusses Agent Ruby in this video from 2008Lynn Hershman Leeson: The Agent Ruby Files is on view on SFMOMA’s third-floor landing through June 2. Visit. Tell Ruby your dreams.

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