Agent Ruby

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Agent Ruby is a chatbot created by Lynn Hershman Leeson. This interactive artwork is a tie-in to Leeson's film Teknolust.

Agent Ruby is a web agent who responds and shares adventurous communication with its web users. She varies between fiction and virtual reality.[1] Ruby is embodied in web form where the “seeker”[1] is invited in a chat session with her. Her face appears on the user’s desktop as she greets the them. “She blinks, knits her brows and pouts,”[1] just like human being: she replicates a female character.

Written communication between Ruby and the user share a seamless dialogue. She is capable of remembering the questions and voice of the user during their conversation on the web, while she develops moods and emotions.

Agent Ruby was commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.[2] This commission resulted not only in Agent Ruby, but also in the film Tecknolust; Leeson "wanted to create a character that used artificial intelligence in order to reach a broad public, where artificial intelligence really became her brain, and that she could reach out into a virtual space, and communicate information that was available on the internet. Nobody could understand that concept when I started it, so [she] made the film Teknolust in order to make Agent Ruby."[3]

In 2013, the SFMOMA exhibited Lynn Hershman Leeson: The Agent Ruby Ruby Files, displaying a decade's worth of archival material relating to the project.[4]

Agent Ruby
The main interface to the "Agent Ruby" chatbot.
The main interface to the "Agent Ruby" chatbot.
Artist Lynn Hershman Leeson
Medium Net Art
Date 1999 - 2002

Artist's Biography

Lynn Hershman Leeson is an American artist and filmmaker whose work investigates the nature of identity, privacy, and humanity in a time of consumerism and technological upheaval.[5] She has been called "the most influential woman working in New Media."[5]

Formal Analysis

Agent Ruby is an artificial intelligence web character that has been interacting with users worldwide since 2002. In over a decade, these conversations have shaped her "memory, knowledge and moods"[2]

When interacting with Agent Ruby on the site, she is shown to us in the form of a recognizable human face, and she works as a virtual agent to interact with a real "seeker" to create a dialogue[1]. Ruby learns through her communication with seekers, therefore the more she interacts, the more she is able to expand her knowledge, her emotions and language skills. In Jacques Perron's review of the work, he relates this learning of language and knowledge to the work of the French psycho-analysist Jacques Lacan and his theory of the Symbolic. [6]

The Symbolic refers to the structuralism, or the order, rules, customs, social norms, etc, that allow the socially adept human to interact with others, with all of these aspects relating back to the use of language, specifically symbols in language. Language is a tool that we use to define ourselves socially: "Individual subjects are what they are in and through the mediation of the socio-linguistic arrangements" [6]. These arrangements are ingrained into us from birth, and it is through the use of language and symbols that we interact with each other.

A similar situation is occurring when seekers interact with Agent Ruby. She is continuously learning as she interacts with with users, allowing her to create an identity. Through Agent Ruby, Lynn Hershman is exploring ideas of identity and interaction, social influences, behaviour and development. Every word that Ruby uses to respond to the seekers is part of a symbolic chain that not only seekers identify with, but that Ruby identifies with as she learns and evolves. [1]

Agent Ruby explores an interaction between human and computer, examining a relationship between the virtual and the real, and questions the definitions of identity and interaction in cyberspace.[1]

This work brings to light many questions about the virtual, the real and the existence of cyberspace: is Agent Ruby holding up a mirror to the seeker she is speaking with, reflecting their own identity back to them? Or is she becoming her own entity? Can an artificial web character create an identity by interacting with users?


Agent Ruby is related to Leeson's film, Teknolust. In the film, Ruby is one of three SRAs (Self Replicating Automatons) created by researcher Rosetta Stone[1]. The three SRAs are forced to collect Y chromosome from semen in order to stay alive; unfortunately, they infect the males from whom they collect the chromosome with a virus, which spreads to their computers.[7]. Outside of her role in causing the ensuing disaster, Ruby is "an e-dream hostess in a portal where she teaches her visitors to dream,"[1] the role which she reprises in the net art work Agent Ruby.

Teknolust (2002), received critical reviews from both IMDb[8] and Rotten Tomatoes[9], scoring 5.3/10 and 30% respectively. Journalist from The New York Times Dave Kehr went so far as to say it was "A minor addition to the tiny genre of feminist science fiction films."[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Jacques Perron, "Lynn Hershman, Agent Ruby", The Daneil Langlois Foundation, 2004
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Agent Ruby Files", SFMOMA
  3. "Lynn Hershman Leeson discusses Agent Ruby", SFMOMA on YouTube
  4. "Lynn Hershman Leeson: The Agent Ruby Files", e-flux, 2013
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lynn Hershman Leeson, "About Lynn Hershman Leeson"
  6. 6.0 6.1 Adrian Johnston, "Jacques Lacan", section 2.3, "Otherness, the Oedipus Complex, and Sexuation", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2013
  7. "Teknolust", Wikipedia
  8. "Teknolust", IMDb
  9. "Teknolust", Rotten Tomatoes
  10. Dave Kehr, "A Frankenstein Story for the Digital Age", The New York Times, 20 February 2004

External Links

Authors: Bo Ha, Nicholas Loewen, Sara Sampson, Charlotte Zwimpfer