A few hundred years ago due to some mix up of terminology and God somebody came up with the idea that all creatures are equally in the world. Flies, cows and humans are not more or less, we are after all all God’s creation. Easy life until a local farmer decided to press charges against the grasshoppers that had eaten his crops. When the grasshoppers didn’t show up at court they were granted an attorney in their absence. It seems the attorney wasn’t that smart because he lost the case for the grasshoppers who were made pay quite a sum of money. Shit happens when agency is mixed up.
In “Alien Phenomenology” the philosopher and game designer Ian Bogost proposes an interesting view on AI. Bogost might be one of those how identify with triple O so evidently there is something about objects here, but rather than having objects withdraw and make things complicated he uses triple O to charge objects with agency. This agency however has nothing to do with human agency or with anything anthropocentric hence humans can have absolutely no idea about how, if, under what circumstances, when, perhaps already and right now this or these agencies can gain traction and provoke something in the universe, perhaps also resonating into the human realm. In other words the agency of object is contingent to what is human, or simpler it’s just non of our business. There is no use in trying to figure out what this or that agency is since every attempt will anthropomorphise it and make it however vague never the less human. Yet, if we just manage to stop trying there are possible forms of transfer between humans and other capacities in the world, also innate. Such transfers could perhaps be said to be qua potentiality and therefore immeasurable, contingent and, with a bit of aiming from the hip, perhaps metaphysical. A crux is further that this form of possible transfer must be indifferent, or in any respect useful because the moment it lands some kind of value it has gone through a process of actualisation and is not potentiality any more. Add to that, that the transfer obviously also is non-relational, for the very same reason.
Bogost goes on proposing that AI is already happening independently of human attempts. It is futile to think about if humans via computers can create intelligence that bypass us. Of course it’s possible, but it is never the less only “human” intelligence, even if self-generated by the AI. It is human intelligence because we can recognise it. What is more interesting to ponder is the possibility, and this is Bogost argument, that intelligence is created and consolidated independently of human, so to say in the motherboards, between the circuits, along those millions of cables, all the way to my keyboard or and so on. This is the real deal, and the intelligence we should both fear and cherish exactly because it is happening contingently to humans and is completely indifferent to us, the world and so on. There are according to Bogost then two kinds of AI; man made that can be scary because it might take command and enslave us, “Planets of The Ape” style, and intelligence that is radically independent to humanity, which in ways are much more frightening because it might just wipe all of us out not even knowing about it, totally unaware and without warning. An intelligence that is carried by its own agency.
AI is often posed as a threat. Popular culture is full of AI ding-dongs called HAL, Ava, Kevin Spacey or Michael Fassbender who failsafe is deep Satan underneath their silk sweet voices. AI is taking over and if needed it will take us out, wipe us off the table and have dinner with another bunch of heartless pragmatics.
But something started to change, perhaps with Samantha – Scarlet J so good – in “Her” and it seems that cute versions of AI currently is invading the art world and its AI that’s so human it’s disgusting. In gallery spaces all over the place AI is something slightly incomprehensible yet sweet and adorable passed on to the viewer through a nice high-res display. AI has turned away from HAL and become a pet, a nice one that you can establish a kind of Tamagotchi relationship with. Why in the first place does AI gain any kind of representation. I want AI to be abstract just for starters and why do these representations roll around like a bunch of heart breaking animations somewhere between an accordion and a mole. It’s not right and if they learn anything it’s generated through algorithms which means approximately as complex an AI as a google search.
Of course it’s great that art keeps up with it’s time and technical innovation. It’s a must and in ways it can’t avoid it anyway but why embrace AI and VR today with such benevolence and naïveté. First of all because it’s a better investment. I mean why go for individual collectors when you can sell a piece to a corporation. But what about if it indeed is strategic. When AI has already invaded our lives, more or less shady and without us knowing about it, that the corporate world wants to promote an image of AI as exactly that and when connected to the creative and artistic that’s just added value. Used by artists AI becomes part of a world that’s attractive, that’s rich and global and yet it proposes itself as individual, unique, open minded and innovative. The more pet like representations AI gain the better not least in order to avoid a kind of uncanny valley of the mind. If AI becomes too human it might get rejected but everybody likes a kitten.
This never mind is whatever and fine, but the moment when AI is made human and friendly, when it’s gestures can be read as intimacy, care, frustration or any other human like responses, as we know it loses its independent agency and becomes useful like an immersion blender, which means that it is “granted” agency, human agency. If we instead were to follow Bogost argument and work on AI as an intelligence independent from humans, i.e. as autonomous and carried by its own agency – that is not geared through representation but through intelligence – which appears to be abstract or if not at least slippery in respect of representation – wouldn’t that as experience or encounter coincide with the aesthetic experience or an encounter with art. And that experience, because it must be indifferent to itself and its relations, equals that form of transfer to which knowledge is useless and to which our only response is awe or a sense of being overwhelmed. Aesthetic experience is perhaps not so far from an encounter with AI, it is to be touched by an intelligence that is felt and yet absolutely foreign.