Technology, in its complexity, is surrounded by fictions and perceptions that escape rational thought; many of them inspired by myths, fears, superstitions, mirages, perplexities, ghosts … These narratives collide time and again with reality and They often tend towards platitudes within the sociocultural and epistemological framework that thinks them. In past navigation charts, where the limits of knowledge ended, the horizon was populated with monsters, creatures and formless beasts; Imagination is the mechanism that humans have to deal with the unknown. Imagination, therefore, plays a fundamental role in how we relate to technology and scientific knowledge.
We need images to visualize the tools we use in our day to day, whose perception has been restricted to screens. Thus, we fill our daily lives with symbols and metaphors that replace the old gears, buttons and levers. When we talk about artificial intelligence (AI) this phenomenon becomes even more palpable. It is precisely for this reason that the conquest of the collective imagination has become the ultimate challenge for the technological giants who, by perpetuating their images, ensure the power to exploit the imaginaries and landscapes of the present and the future.
This is how this journey begins, a process a la dérive (Guy Debord, ‘Theory of Dérive’, 1956) in which we embark in order to recognize and map through this story the latent sensations in the collective imagination about of artificial intelligences, and of representing the diffuse imaginary “cre(AI)tures” that surround it, witnesses of our most intimate fears and misgivings. Our course is to explore the liminal spaces where fictions can come true. In these intermediate states, where the limits are blurred and everything is contaminated by thoughts that transcend the technological and functional, the AI acquire attributions of all kinds, becoming something ambivalent with undefined intentions; sometimes very similar to the anthropomorphic model; sometimes the opposite.
Imagine you’re an AI
Through an anonymous form that sees the creative and the subjective as a value that is often overlooked in scientific-analytical models, anyone is invited to imagine themselves as artificial intelligence. Question by question, the participants draw the ontological context of their being, the morphology of their body, their communication skills, their vital values, their emotional thermometer and their most desired needs.
The idea of using a digital form, closer to an easily viralizable test than to a statistical questionnaire, opens up this space of the unknown in the everyday, from the playful, from the close. After all, the test is one more excuse to feed the sociological imagination (C. Wright Mills, ‘The Sociological Imagination’, 1959) of the participants, seeking to sow in them the germ of doubt about the unquestionable ideas that cement the intelligences manufactures and the technologies that make them possible.
The ninety responses that have been collected to date unfold before us in a myriad of possibilities. The analysis and classification of the open responses of creative subjects is a task that, to this day, no artificial intelligence is capable of successfully undertaking: the size of the sample and the variability of the responses make any attempt at standardization difficult. Therefore, the treatment of them has to be done manually, making use of our human intelligence. Using one of the most widespread classification formulas in our knowledge framework, we employ the Cartesian axis system in the hope of discovering around which regions the responses are concentrated.
At this point, it is inevitable to make a critique of the invisible limits of our own thought, which tends to reduce to the known the possibilities of the thinkable from a particular perspective. Therefore, with the aim of obtaining a more inclusive reading and open to new possibilities, we undertake a second analysis starting from the previously defined Cartesian categories, trying to find the relationships between them and what is hidden behind them. The idea is to draw a map with what was obtained, a territory populated by cre(AI)tures that, however, once raised, is too static and decisive. And it is that drawing a line is, in itself, an inaccurate and violent act (Barbara Johnson, ‘Melville’s Fist: The Execution of Billy Budd’, 1979).
The critical nature of the project forces us to question again and again the visual narrative that we are composing. The uniqueness of each conceived creature was diluted by the taxonomic and deterministic nature of the map. For this reason, we look for a representation that allows us to see the individual paths of each creature together with its place within the great channel of the collective imagination, which we begin to intuit from the categories obtained during the first analysis. We opted for a flow chart or Sankey diagram. Thus, meanders and deltas arise from the intersection of individual flows, hints of the different natures that we attribute to artificial intelligences; estuaries and great plains, where the great stories of the collective imagination converge; abyssal chasms, in whose shadows hide the most feared specters and reefs populated with impossible combinations and the most desired utopias.
We imagine artificial intelligences as immaterial, inorganic, cyborg or soul beings. We give them a voice, we hear them communicate with us, we feel them adapt their language to the interlocutor; we visualize beings without language, beings that do not need it. In the abyss of our imagination there is room for synthetic and natural creations, fluid and solid, some sinister and others more familiar. We discover beings of a diligent, conformist or ambitious nature, destructive and generative, and there is still room for those who program their life, those who face it as an ongoing process, or those who leave their purposes undiscovered. We see intelligences that dream, that feel and are moved, others that do not understand people, others that criticize them, others that feel sorry for them; intelligences that are recognized and thought about, that question their creators and their capacities, that question the very act of asking, others that ask the question. Some could occupy a niche among the most widespread pantheons, others are as human as a laugh.
We could say that in our composition utopias are posed and dystopias are drawn. What can be guessed with some reliability is that, in the end, each and every one of the answers contains little clues that only time, new developments and new interpretations will be able to reveal.
For the moment, we’ll stick with the reflection of human nature that remains after probing the ins and outs of artificial intelligence:
What monsters are lurking inside the AI black boxes? What myths give and will shape technological developments? At what moments does the imagined become reality?
SPECIAL THANKS TO ALL THE INTELLIGENCES THAT HAVE PARTICIPATED UP TO DATE IN THIS RESEARCH
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