Black Box at the MIT Museum

MIT Museum

Black Box at the MIT Museum

MIT Black Box

Project Overview

Can an AI understand human emotion?

That’s the question we wanted to help visitors answer with the “Blackbox” interactive developed for the MIT museum. To embody MIT’s motto, “Mens et manus” (“Mind and hand), we gave visitors first-hand experience working with a neural network instead of explaining how AI works. Our goal was to break open the “black box” that is AI, making this complex technology a little less mysterious and a little more human.

Project Videos and Images

Visitors Draw a Face

We wanted to make something visitors could test. Something they could play with and try to break. And because the MIT Museum is about creating connections between people and technology, we wanted our neural network to focus on something human. For that reason, we ask visitors to draw a face.

  • Evaluate

    The AI evaluates the drawing and illustrates the process in a real-time visualization.

  • Neural Net

Visitors Draw a Face

The output is rendered onto an immersive holographic display that uses three layers of hologauze — one for each phase of the neural network process.


Layer 1: Input. The first layer shows the user’s drawing, input via touchscreen, being encoded into a grid of 28×28 pixels. Each pixel is mapped to a neuron, the fundamental unit of a neural network.

Layer 2: Compute. The second layer shows how the drawing activates the neurons in the network as it compares the user’s drawing to the model created from community drawings.

Layer 3: Results. The final layer visualizes the machine’s decision process using colored circles and bars. Once it reaches a conclusion, the answer is shared on the touchscreen.

Score Accuracy

Ultimately, the neural network is about 85% accurate. Could we have expanded the data set to improve its recognition ability? Or added more nodes to create a more complex network? Sure. But that wasn’t the point.There’s a sense of joy that comes from discovering its limitations.

Moreover, the experience teach visitors about complex ideas through simple experiences. To give them hands-on experience with innovative technology.  Combining the mind (thought) and the hand (action) is at the core of the MIT experience.