Interdependence: We Need to Talk

Interdependence: We Need to Talk was a series of talks hosted at locations across Manchester as part of the MIF 2017 program. Each session covered various issues that face us in the 21st Century, including technology, community and heroes. Interdependence: Technology featured three discussions covering the relationship between body and technology, video games and memory, and the future of Artificial Intelligence.

The first of these discussions seemed to present a division between those who saw technology as a way of escaping the body and those who saw it as a way of reconnecting with and enhancing the physical experience. In the one camp was Laurie Anderson – an artist who creates virtual reality experiences in an attempt to make the participant “forget” that they have a body. In another was the choreographer Wayne McGregor, who uses digital technology to map the movements of the human body for his dancers to work with.

Anderson’s argument seemed to hint towards a Transhumanist future – one in which technology is used to free us from biological constraints. In the ‘San Junipero’ episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror there is an example of this kind of future, a world in which people’s consciousness can be uploaded into a digital retirement home, where anything is possible. Whilst we already have online communities in the form of social media, it will be a while before we can upload a human consciousness. There was some irony in the fact that, when asked to give an example of one of her virtual reality artworks, Anderson described one in which the participant is forced to undergo heart surgery – perhaps one of the most corporeal experiences a person could go through.

The third talk followed up on another branch of digital technology – the advent of Artificial Intelligences. The example given was Elsie (or L.C.) - a so called “Mirror Bot” designed to replicate the behaviour of an animal by responding to light and touch. This seemed more in line with McGregor’s stance on technology – that of technology imitating life. The first thing the other panellists did when they saw Elsie was to touch it and play with it as if it were a dog. Other AIs exist in digital forms- so called “neural networks” like Roborosewater or Inspirobot, which are designed to replicate thought. They do this by learning patterns and replicating them. Some have created artworks, and one has even written a film script.

However, the overarching concern of the technology talks was that it was not the AIs we have to fear but the humans designing and controlling them. At the moment, the majority of our online “meta-data” is being monitored and collected by vast tech companies. The internet until now has been a largely ungoverned space, but it is increasingly becoming a market place, and if recent history has taught us anything it is that unregulated markets may be a bigger threat to our future than Skynet ever could be. (CG)

- Ciaran Grace

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Interdependence: We Need to Talk - MIF 2017

Sunspring - Film Script Written by AI

Idea Channel - On Transhumanism, On AI

Can We Build AI Without Losing Control Over It? - TED Talk

Metadata and Consent