Objects Incognito or Rethinking Machine Intelligence
Anab Jain and Alex Taylor, Microsoft Research, Cambridge, 2006-200

Intelligent objects are set to radically transform our everyday lives. We are faced with the prospect of smart watches, cars, phones, homes, robots, etc. More profound, perhaps, are the promises of incorporating intelligence into bio- and nano-technologies. Here, near invisible machines and organisms are set to manage our bodies and environments in previously unimaginable ways. Yet unclear in these visions is what, exactly, is meant by intelligence and what it will be like to live with a ubiquity of intelligent technologies of the kind envisaged.

If technologies are to be intelligent, what will their dumb counterparts look and behave like? How is it that the creators and users of these technologies will attribute them with intelligence ? What will the term intelligence accomplish, discursively, and what position (intellectual, political, or otherwise) will it authorize or legitimize?

What should be clear is that the prospect of intelligence(s) suffused into our environments and our bodies has the potential to profoundly reconfigure our interactions with machines and between ourselves. How are we to imagine such possibilities and, if need be, counter them?

'Objects Incognito' aims to take the intelligence of technical things seriously. By proposing and building a series of conceptual objects, we aim to critically examine the oft used terms ‘smart’, ‘intelligent’, ‘artificial intelligence’ and so on that are prevalent in future technological imaginaries. Broadly, the project will bring together a range of ideas of intelligence, ranging from scientific and technical perspectives to the ordinary and everyday use of the word (and its equivalents).

The project’s conceptual objects will be designed to incorporate some of these ideas, revealing assumptions and tensions bound up in their use. So as to provoke active engagement and thought by a wide-ranging audience, the objects will have a strong critical or disruptive orientation as well as careful attention given to form and aesthetic detail.

The project has three parts: 'Domestic Gubbins', 'Near-Future RFID', and 'Life and Death in Energy Autonomous Devices', which can be browsed individually from here.

Download the book documenting the entire project here.


This project was shown in the 'Design and Elastic Mind' online exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, February - May 2008.

Since then it has been exhibited in the Slow Art Category at SIGGRAPH 08, EPIC 08, LIFT09 and at Interactivos, Madrid.

This film depicts a scenario of use in the future, where a couple have recently bought the radio, and are attempting to find ways of beginning to live with it.