internet, social media, Technology

All. Together, Now.

While an art auction may not be anything that has major social ramifications, a recent auction at Christie’s in New York did catch our attention. While we like an auction as the next person, this one did have a picture painted by AI . Th piece, titled “Portrait of Edmond Belamy” was created by a Paris-based collective called Obvious Art created an algorithm that can create painted images. They are interested in exploring the boundaries of creativity, computers and AI and pushing the boundaries of what a machine can create. An idea that will be revisited here, the thing that came to mind was the increasing question of what it is to be human and if that is an answer that we really need. We used to try hold humanness out of reach of animals, like a treat from a dog made to jump at an ever higher raised treat, only to find no matter how high we set the bar, animals could rise to and above it. At first, we were the tool making creatures but soon we found gorillas had the same ability. We had a complex social structure only to find that many other animals did too. No matter how we seemed to try to set ourselves above and apart our specialness seemed to be co-opted by lower life forms. Now as we try to maintain our place in the center of our egocentric model (with apologies to Ptolemy) we find it harder and harder to find our ground in the center of the world. As AI and computers advance the Turing test, a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human seems to be nothing more than a roadside attraction we have passed whizzing by to a future which we seem unwilling to consider.
While AI advances make us less unique in the larger sense perhaps it should make us more aware of the things that make us unique as individuals. An algorithm can create a piece of art but only Picasso could create a Guernica, only Joyce, Ulysses, and these things could not exist until these consciousness beings created them just as Portrait of Edmond Belamy could not be created until Obvious Art programmed the computer to create it. Perhaps our uniqueness ought to be the measured by to our communal ability to create and discover, be we carbon or silicon-based than our need to divide and segregate.

“We were making the future…and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making”

H.G.Wells from “When the Sleeper Wakes” (1899)


The Portrait of Edmond de Belamy

Obvious Art, AI, The Portrait of Edmond Belamy


The Machine for Living

One of my guilty pleasures has been watching Downton Abbey on DVD. Watching the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era made me think about the role of servants in the Victorian age and how at one point the house was to be an echo of the machines of the industrial revolution that was to be modern and efficient. Servants had back stairs and even cubbies or niches to duck into on front stairways if the lords and lady’s of the house were coming up or downstairs. The thought was that the house was a thing unto itself, that managed itself without the need for human intervention a machine for living in. Beds were made, dishes removed by invisible hands like clockwork later described by Le Corbusier as a “Machine for Living In” This idea of mechanized perfection came from the technology of the time, that machines would set us free and give us all machines for living a mechanized life. If that was the effect of the Industrial Revolution and beyond I wonder what futuristic this computer age will bring us? Will be begin to see ourselves moving at the speed of information, giving our corporal bodies over to an electric dance of code or have we become too much of the earth to be optimistic?

A lovely piece by Rachel Whiteread- if you don’t know her work you really should google her…