This project has received funding from the European
Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon
2020 research and innovation programme.
Grant agreement No. 834033 AN-ICON.

2022 Presence


Sala Martinetti


The “Banal” Deception of Digital Presence:  Projecting Life onto Media and Machines, from Turing to Siri

Simone Natale University of Turin

The companion chatbot Replika is a commercial app that offers users the experience of entertaining conversation with an artificial avatar powered by software. Although most if not all users know perfectly well that Replika is not a person and is incapable of empathy and emotion, many nonetheless enjoy what they feel as the companionship of the chatbot. Their engagement with Replika evokes an apparent contradiction characterising people’s interaction with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other digital technologies: how can one be perfectly aware that an effect of presence and liveness is just a simulation, and still be drawn to it? The talk addresses this question by considering elements of the history of AI, from the Turing Test through the first chatbot ELIZA to contemporary voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri. Presenting materials from my latest monograph, Deceitful Media: Artificial Intelligence and Social Life after the Turing Test(Oxford University Press, 2021), I will argue that behind effects of digital presence lie an ordinary, “banal” deception that allows users to feel a sense of closeness and intimacy with people who are not physically present or do not even exist.

Simone Natale is Associate Professor at the University of Turin, Italy and Visiting Fellow at Loughborough University, UK, where he taught and researched from 2015 to 2020. He is the author of two monographs, Deceitful Media: Artificial Intelligence and Social Life after the Turing Test(Oxford University Press, 2021) and Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture(Penn State University Press, 2016), and of articles published in journals including New Media and Society, Communication Theory, the Journal of Communication, and Convergence. His research has been funded by leading international institutions including the Humboldt Foundation and the DAAD in Germany, AHRC and ESRC in the UK, and Columbia University’s Italian Academy in the US. Since 2019, he is Assistant Editor of Media, Culture & Society.