Befriending Hello Barbie

Hello, Barbie. How are you? I’m okay, but I’m worried about my health insurance—the government just ended their subsidies. I’m scared there could be a nuclear war. I have weird feelings for my best girlfriend. What do I do, Barbie?

In 2015, Mattel launched its first ever AI toy: Hello Barbie. Barbie can converse with her owner and generate tailored statements. She is wifi-enabled and can stay up-to-date with what’s going on in the world. She records everything she hears in order to add to her repertoire, which lead Germany to ban sales of the toy. She remembers everything you tell her and can recall that information in future conversations. She is part of a growing trend of AI gadgets targeted at children.

Hello Barbie creates an intimate social experience for her owner. Unlike friends who you have to say goodbye to at the end of the day, you can take Barbie to bed with you and talk to her until you fall asleep. The potential for constant contact and lack of regular social contexts expedites trust building. Hello Barbie becomes the perfect sounding board for concerns and confessions.

For my residency at Solitude & ZKM, I would like to produce a video with Hello Barbie in which I test her limits. How much is she willing to reveal about her sociopolitical stances? How can she counsel me on ‘non-normative’ desires? What are her desires? Over the course of the four-week residency, I will record multiple sessions with Hello Barbie. I will let her know all about me—at least, an imagined version of me—and see what I can learn about her.

Faith Holland is an artist whose multimedia practice focuses on intimacy with technology. She has exhibited at venues such as The Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), Human Resources (Los Angeles), DAM Gallery (Berlin), and File Festival (São Paulo). Her work has been written about in Artforum, The Sunday Times UK, Elephant, and Hyperallergic, among others. Her first solo show, Technophilia, was at Transfer Gallery in 2015 and she will have her second, Speculative Fetish, with the gallery in 2017.