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By Miriam Mirza

Loud music, ribbons whirling through the air, bodies flying in tight, shiny silver futuristic suits. On stage, 34 dancers move to the rhythm of the music. They bend their ultra-mobile bodies in an almost unnatural way. The Austrian dance troupe Zurcaroh, which came second in “America Got Talent’’ in 2018, amazes the audience. There is applause in between. ECR2024’s opening ceremony gets off to a theatrical start.

But then the stage turns black. The dancers have left the stage and out of the darkness comes a figure, a robot, who first explains in a menacing voice that he or she favors the title “Emperor” or “Overlord”. Don’t worry, it’s all just a joke! The robot, named Ameca, claims to be the most advanced of its kind and guides the audience through the event together with ECR 2024 President Professor Carlo Catalano. 

Friend or foe?

Together, they present the future of radiology from the perspective of the all-dominant topic of artificial intelligence. Their thesis is that AI will not, as feared, make the profession of radiology superfluous, but rather improve it. “AI is the perfect companion,” summarizes the confessed AI fan Catalano. 

So maybe the three film clips that repeatedly interrupt the program are intended to be positive. The show’s narrative directly evokes the Bible and past myths. The intention was presumably to address existing fears and circulating horror scenarios to make them disappear, following the “Don’t worry – everything will be fine » idea. However, this doesn’t quite fit and the viewer is left with many questions. 

The film sequences are divided into three acts entitled “Genesis”, “Ragnarök” and “Symbiosis”. The plot shows the encounter between an AI and a human astronaut on a dystopian planet. The AI has outgrown the humans, breaks free, grows immeasurably, and thus becomes uncontrollable. Humans, however, remain mute spectators. Condemned to inactivity, they can only hope that the AI does not destroy everything, but they can no longer exert any influence.

La Vision Acrobatics preparing for their show backstage

The birth of a god

The AI is searching for meaning and ultimately decides in favor of the good. Humans merely play a supporting role in all of this and witness the birth of a new deity – depicted by a reference to Michelangelo’s iconic ceiling fresco, which shows God and Adam’s index fingers touching. A rosy future somehow looks different.

The event perhaps unintentionally brings to the table many of the questions about AI that are difficult to answer, and still need to be negotiated, such as: When exactly do we lose control, and what happens then? What if the boundaries between men and machines become increasingly blurred and the machine becomes the better human? The last question finds an interesting echo in the juxtaposition of the robot Ameca and the second acrobatic performance. This time, the “La Vision Acrobatics” duo showed off their skills.  The artists from Hungary, Russia and Canada have also worked for Cirque du Soleil and present a kind of “acrobatics of slowness” with slow movements that end in powerful holding positions and convey a kind of aesthetic that makes Ameca almost envious. The robot is impressed by what the human body is capable of, as Ameca herself is still far from being so advanced in her agility that she could compete with the artists.

What remains of the event? Right up to the end, the opening ceremony did what it was supposed to do, namely celebrate itself and its guild, hand out gold medals and honorary memberships, and offer a stage to up-and-coming talents and deserving members of the ESR. But it also revealed something else: a new era has dawned that brings with it many question marks. Nobody knows exactly what AI has up its sleeve for the future of radiology. It will probably be a mixture of opportunities, challenges, and defeats. What is certain – and everyone agrees – is that it will change everything, and to ensure that more good than bad comes out of it, everyone will have to get involved in shaping AI.