Kelly Dobson’s relationship with machines began in a junkyard, where from the age of four she did odd jobs such as smashing windows and hauling machine parts from one area of the yard to another. In 1990 Dobson studied medicine and art at Cornell University’s Department of Architecture, Art and Planning. Working in the realms of art, design, engineering, psychology and society, Dobson explored the relationships between people and machines, and has received a Master of Science degree from MIT’s Visual Studies Program and another from the MIT Media Lab. Currently, as a researcher and PhD candidate at the MIT Media Lab, she is developing a method of personal, societal, and psychoanalytical engagement termed “Machine Therapy.”


A selection of Machine Therapy machines with very different personalities (including a 1950s kitchen blender, a power drill, an old chemistry lab mixer, and a new machine guaranteed to be a stranger to all clients) will be made available to all for private sessions through an Internet video and audio live chat. Participants can log on to call or reserve time with a machine and then communicate from wherever they are. The machines keep track of their clientele and may call them back at unexpected times, either for further sessions if they feel more work has to be accomplished, if they have a sense that the person needs more contact and vocalizing space, or if the machine itself just want to communicate with them. Kelly Dobson will introduce people to these evocative machines through interactive performances with them live in public venues.

In the practice of Machine Therapy, machines are empathetic and reactive, expressively interacting with a participant while the participant acknowledges the machine’s full being by speaking its language. A person must sound like the machine, the “aarrrraa, aarrrraa” of a motor, for example, in order for the machine to recognize and interact with the person. Likewise, each machine communicates with each person by matching its own motor and body sounds and actions to the person’s vocal expressions and body movements (achieved through signal processing and machine learning). By having their own impulses, the machine contribute their own points of view while listening and reacting with the person. Machine Therapy is an investigation of the contingent relationships between people and machines in our everyday lives.