Knock Knock

Two Alexas, proxies for human assistants, entertain each other in a cryptographic guessing game that exceeds both human intelligence and human patience.

DATE: 09.2019

DURATION: 2 weeks


EXHIBITION: “Katherine Behar: Backups” solo exhibition, Mazmanian Gallery, Framingham State University, MA, 09.2019; “Arts, Culture, and Digital Transformation Summit” Group exhibition. The Banff Center. Banff, Alberta, Canada. November 2019.

While digital culture constantly generates alternative copies or “backups” to minimize risk, Behar attempts to unlock the lost potential in these stocks of substitutes. At once humorous and critical, the artwork reinvents the data and devices we have abandoned to storage.

In Knock Knock, two speech-enabled smart devices go head-to-head when one Alexa tries to guess a cryptographic key known only to the other. Their guessing game begins like the familiar children’s game prompt, “I’m thinking of a number…” However, this number relies on SHA-256, the same encryption used by blockchain technology. The only way to win is through “brute force,” that is, by trying random 64-digit combinations until luck prevails.