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Nov 6, 2017

Will AI Erase Human Meaning?

I'm a painter, among other things. So I find myself thinking of the following scenario.
What if I had a smart pallet that knew what color I was going to choose next, and would mix just that amount of color right before I needed it? I'm afraid that the result would be not that I'd appreciate the help, but that I'd suffer from a creeping feeling that I was not the originator of the painting, but merely some kind of servant of some other painter entity who had the idea I was simply carrying out.

The assumption of AI development is that humans want help with everything and that an automated world is a better world. We tend to think of AI in very simplistic terms, like it's all about making our chores easy. It's unfortunate that something as central to humanity's future as the development of AI lends itself so easily to wide misunderstanding. A person really has to spend time studying and thinking about the issues to begin to understand what's truly at stake. I've been doing so for years and even now I keep encountering new and troubling questions.

While some might appreciate automated decision-making, I wonder if the coming of AI will serve to make human life increasingly meaningless. If there's one thing we of the consumerist culture have learned, it's that marketers are masters at instilling in us desires for things we don't need (which incidentally happens to be what they're selling). What they're not good at is asking us what would make our lives more meaningful! And when it comes to marketing AI that could be deadly, producing a world of valueless citizens for whom life would be increasingly empty.

This represents the kind of thing that troubles me about the coming AI tsunami: not so much the overt affect of AI infusing our lives, but the subtle implications of what that will do to the qualities of lived human life that no one is paid to examine but that we'll all be subject to! 

The future of all of humanity is on the line, so we should all be in on the conversation about what it is we want of the future. That's why I've helped put together such a public discussion this week, called Vulnerable Humans, Predictable Machines, the third of three symposia, and written a play showing this week about it. I don't want to wake up one day to a world where our future has been finally determined by corporations. Now is the time to speak up if you agree.

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.