Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
Lizzy Lubitsky, Bunker Projects’ latest artist-in-residence, didn’t know Pittsburgh’s history with CAPTCHA, or Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart, before creating an entire show based on it.
“I kind of love that it just was something that was really resonating with me, these random combinations of words that are sometimes like, ‘Just before you fill out this document, could you tell me which one of these is a bus?’” she says.
Combining sculpture, Arduino motors and interactive elements, Lubitsky’s Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart — CAPTCHA for short — interprets the test through absurd, Rube Goldberg-esque machinery.
The term CAPTCHA is credited to Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists Manuel Blum, Nicholas J. Hopper, John Langford and Luis von Ahn, who coined it in 2003. CAPTCHA in its earliest iteration, used garbled text to filter out spambots from humans.
“I took it out of the visual context and kind of introduced into this 3D world that still requires a person to function,” she says.
CAPTCHA uses three abilities that only humans can understand: invariant recognition, or the ability to recognize the variation in the letter shape; segmentation, or the ability to separate one letter from another; and parsing, which is analyzing something based on its context. Lubitsky’s exhibit focuses specifically on parsing, which she connects to culture itself.
“I think that we as people should be stepping back and analyzing ourselves within our context of technology and how we’re letting it move the way we grow up and interact with each other specifically,” she says.
Lubitsky’s machines only require a quarter. Put in your change, turn the handle, and watch as a stream of water moves from one tank to another. Or, watch as three lamps turn on in succession. The machines can’t function without the human element.
“We are so integrated with technology, so it’s only natural that we continue to form different relationships with technology,” she says.
According to Lubitsky. She’s not an engineer, and began incorporating technology into her practice slowly, beginning with creating impractical light sources or creating a light source that manipulated the color of water.
“That’s where I kind of wanted to learn how to integrate simple lighting systems or triggers or
just collect data from the actual happening now and then create a response to it,” she says.
Lubitsky says this hands-on approach helped her master learning the tech behind her art.
“It didn’t make any sense but just the more you practice it, the more it makes sense,” she says. “It’s cool to be able to be like, ‘Oh my gosh I could just wire this to that and nothing will explode.’”
Lubitsky graduated from Temple with a BFA in sculpture in 2018. She says it’s refreshing to make tech-inspired art thanks to humans advocating for emerging artists, especially so early in her career.
“You graduate art school with your super high in demand sculpture degree and then you’re like, ‘What’s going to happen now?’” she says. “It feels really good to have such a supportive community here in Pittsburgh.”