The Austin Chronicle

Casual Strangers Administer Turing Test

By Kevin Curtin, August 8, 2016, 1:45pm, Earache!

Can a robot act so human that we can’t tell it’s a machine? That’s the premise for the Turing Test, an experiment developed by Alan Turing in 1950 that evaluated artificial intelligence on the basis of whether a computer can offer such realistic responses to questions that the administrator can’t distinguish whether the subject is man or machine.

In a new short film based on the music of Austin psychedelic synth experimenters Casual Strangers, a cyborg comes to life in a white observation room and begins interacting with devices in the environment. There’s a centrifuge that spins colored paint into art designs, a television broadcasting scenes of life on Earth, and a cassette player loaded with Casual Strangers' 2016 tape Pink Panther, which the Chronicle’s Michael Toland describes as “an organic trip into the cosmic ether.”

And all the while, as it powers the experiments, the sapient cyborg becomes potently self-aware and decides to bring color to the stark white room by splattering paint.

The seven-minute clip is the directorial debut for Casual Strangers’ keyboardist Jaylinn Davidson – and also artistic revenge. Her bandmates Paul Waclawsky and Katey Gunn had recorded the track “Turing Test” on Davidson’s Moog Voyager without her input. In turn, she produced a rogue video for the song without featuring her bandmates in it.

Davidson built a set in her garage with material procured from Home Depot and Hobby Lobby, enlisting her friend Sara Eleta Reid to act in the process. She then shot the entire video on an iPhone 6 with the app FiLMiC Pro. Davidson says the project took over 200 hours, much of which was spent editing, but it was in post-production that she had an existential revelation that changed the plot to the video – and perhaps the understanding of life as we know it.

“During the editing process, I felt like, visually, it was missing a layer,” she says. “I’m such a space head, so I went to NASA’s website and layered some nebula scenes over the cyborg in the color part. All of a sudden it hit me: When she splatters the paint, it looks like the Horsehead Nebula! The paint looks like stars and galaxies!

“Then I kind of blew my own mind. I said, ‘Oh my God, she could be the Creator! The Creator could be a robot!’ That idea gave me chills.

“It all lined up so beautifully. At the very end, when she looks through the screen, that – to me – was humanity: flashes of what goes on here on Earth and our struggle,” continues Davidson. “When she looks into that and blows into her hand, out come the galaxies. That’s when she became a deity instead of an experiment.”

After you take a moment to process the possibility that our universe was created by a robot – and then ponder who built that robot – check out the new video for Casual Strangers' “Turing Test.”

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.