Imagine for a moment, as you walk through the 100-metre-long pedestrian tunnel of Besso, that you can observe what is happening inside an artificial brain. “NeuralRope#1” reproduces in three dimensions a large neuronal network, where the LED screens represent neurons and where ropes that connect them evoke axons and synapses, which propagate the nerve impulses between one neuron and another.

The kinship between artistic work and scientific research offers the possibility of better understanding what artificial intelligence is: scientist Luca Maria Gambardella and visual artist Alex Dorici together have created “NeuralRope#1”, in a joint effort with Lugano Living Lab and to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence (USI-SUPSI). “NeuralRope#1” is an interactive and permanent work. It is in continuous evolution: during the day it thinks and observes passers-by and at night it dreams and processes what it has seen, because “NeuralRope#1” learns from us to interpret autonomously the reality that surrounds it.

Artificial neuronal networks
The Human brain consists of billions of neurons that communicate with each other through nerve impulses propagated by axons and synapses. During our lives, synapses change, allowing us to learn, perceive the world, reason and have feelings.

The artificial neuronal network (NN) - made up of layers of interconnected neurons - digitally reproduces some of the functions of our brain and is able to learn concepts from examples. In the interactive work “NeuralRope#1. Inside an Artificial Brain” we teach an NN to distinguish forms of two kinds: triangles and squares from hand gestures. The network, initially trained in the laboratory, acquires new images by observing passers-by through the camera positioned at the beginning of the tunnel.

While learning, the NN processes the information and modifies its axons and synapses accordingly. Afterwards, the NN will show on monitors at the exit of the tunnel whether a triangle or a square is represented in the perceived image. Therefore, the NN will have observed, reasoned and learned.

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Author #1

Alex Dorici
Visual artist, born in Lugano in 1979. After graduating in painting and engraving, he enhanced his artistic training in Paris, from 2005 to 2010. Back to Lugano in 2010, he devoted himself to artistic installations in urban space. His site-specific artworks use materials such as ropes, tiles, tubes and adhesive tape to alter the perception of daily life places. Since 2006, he has exhibited his works in museums and galleries, both in Switzerland and abroad.

Author #2

Luca Maria Gambardella
The scientist Luca Maria Gambardella was born in Saronno in 1962. He lives and works in Ticino. He obtained a degree and a PhD in Computer Science, developing a strong interest in artificial intelligence. He studies the ability of machines to learn and how robots can be autonomous. He is director of the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence (USI-SUPSI). In addition to scientific research, he dedicates himself to art with passion: he paints, makes sculptures and writes novels.

IDSIA was founded in Lugano in 1988 by Angelo Dalle Molle (1908-2002), an Italian philanthropist and inventor of the bitter liqueur Cynar. Since 2000 it has been a joint institute between SUPSI - Department of Innovative Technologies and USI. It employs 75 people including professors, researchers and PhD students. It deals with fundamental research, applied research and teaching in the areas of machine learning and robotics. Among the institute’s successes are the Ant Colony method for transport optimisation inspired by ants colonies and the LSTM deep learning method, used in millions of applications by companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon. IDSIA won the NVIDIA Pioneers of AI Research award and the Swiss Special ICT award for the impact of its research on Swiss economy

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L*3 - Lugano Living Lab is integral part of the strategic vision of the City of Lugano that has identified innovation among its principles and values. L*3 proposes itself as a platform that aims to foster innovation and interaction between the local actors active in the public, academic and economic fields, with a network dynamic and an open and co-creative approach. The platform represents a point of reference in promoting innovation, testing and implementing new technologies in a systematic way and under real conditions. The final objective is to improve the quality of life and competitiveness of the city through the implementation of projects and concrete initiatives in the context of an urban real-life laboratory, while encouraging urban and regional development.

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Igor Bellotto, Robert Bregy, Elena Buchmann, Claudio Chiapparino, Luigi Maria Di Corato, Mario Fontana, Patrick Wagner, Mauro Soldati e tutta la squadra tecnica della Città di Lugano.


Text by Ada Cattaneo
Software: Gabriele Abbate e Alessandro Giusti
Video NeuralRope#1: Sacha De Nardo
Web design:Leonardo Angelucci
Print design: Gregorio Cascio

Inside an Artificial Brain
Interactive and permanent installation
Alex Dorici
Luca Maria Gambardella
Tunnel di Besso, Lugano
from 2 September 2019