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Algorithmic Culture

In May 2020, Glen Weyl and Jaron Lanier argued in Wired, that 'AI' is “best understood as a political and social ideology rather than as a basket of algorithms”. This ideology holds that a small technical elite can and should develop technologies that will replace human agency and judgment. This theory of AI understands individuals as objects requiring optimization and control. And John Cheney-Lippold, author of We Are Data, offers that “when our embodied individualities get ignored, we increasingly lose control not just over life but over how life itself is defined".

Even the idea of “intelligence” is grounded in assumptions about what qualifies as rationality and its effective application. The idea of intelligence came out of the desire to establish a criterion for participation in public life in ancient Greece. The emotional, the irrational, the less erudite were excluded, and continue to be.

Ethicists, philosophers, and artists have begun the work of “objectifying” critical issues around AI and we are beginning to map out the impacts of what happens when technical theories become embedded as moral or aesthetic theories. There is both a gap and an opportunity in the AI field.

Communities are presented with objects of theoretical cognition, such as ethical frameworks, contemporary works of art, or collaborative manifestos. For too many, these objects make algorithmic events inaccessible. Or communities are provided immersive, aesthetic encounters with AI - dystopian, utopian, or otherwise - but then lose their own position in relation to it.

Why Ferment AI?

The current approach to imagining and representing AI prioritizes the scaffolding of previous interpretations. A speaker tells me that an automated vehicle failed to recognize Black faces in its operation. I already hold that this injustice is unacceptable, and I argue for greater vigilance in the creation and regulation of these automated systems. At no point am I provided a direct encounter with a material event.

Rather than embodying or transforming my perspective I am asked to apply my existing perspectives to the issue at hand. In many cases this is sufficient. However, the changes underway escape the boundaries of our existing set of experiences and are likely to prove inadequate to understanding and responding to changes underway. Perhaps the current listlessness in engaging with opportunities and threats of AI is less a product of indifference or hypocrisy and more the inaccessibility of the ‘event’ under discussion.

By centering a dialogic approach to materializing our relationships with AI, diverse perspectives can be brought into relationship with one another to build a dynamic and polyphonic structure of representation. This suggests a preference for discursive (or ‘novelized’) forms of artistic response.

AI is driven by a spoken or unspoken need to understand people and the world as ‘finalized’ objects of an automated process. Exploration must therefore be multi-subject and multi-epistemic if we hope to create structures of meaning, creation, and action. And by placing subjects into these relational structures of interpretation we become answerable for what happens next. We undersign ourselves to the decisions, actions, and speech conducted in our name.

AI is a move toward the monological, where scale and efficiency become moral positions driving development. If the idea of progress - the promise of a better future and ever-faster ways to get there - is no longer valid, then AI offers some sense of control, at least to avoid the worst disasters.

We are conceiving, incubating, and prototyping AI systems that are built around dialogic and genuine encounters among multiple socialized consciousnesses, both in design and in the final deployment.

We celebrate the possibility of change rather than on specific changes themselves. We are seeking an interruption of the monological, organized around collective exploration and laughter.