Updated: Sep 12, 2019
One of the common human cognitive biases — the so-called assumption “short-cuts” taken by our brains in making sense of reality — is the habit to anthropomorphise the world: to attribute human-like traits, intentions and behaviour to animals, objects, less familiar biological phenomena and abstract concepts. Today, with the proliferation of AI agents in our daily life and popularisation of AI discourse in the media, the tendency to anthropomorphise “intelligence” becomes even more pronounced. It reveals itself in the aspirations of researchers in AI ethics to codify human values and integrate these in the software to create a “kind” and “friendly” AI — and these go hand in hand with the widespread memes of an “evil” supercomputer ultimately putting the humankind to an end. Problematically enough, as we speak of manufacturing “powerful” intelligence, not only we tend to compare it to the human: we would immediately think of a specific, mathematician-like intelligence, capable of fast data processing and computation. It would be the kind of intelligence typically associated with the mind of Albert Einstein: not with the political and diplomatic talent of Otto von Bismarck, the alien prophetic thinking of a village fool depicted by Nietzsche, or the artistic vision of Mark Rothko.
To step back from the anthropomorphic bias would mean to accept that the very notion of “intelligence” refers to a vastly greater space of possibilities than does the term “homo sapiens”. Aiming to grasp the heterogeneity of this space, Dr. Rob Wortham came up with a general definition of intelligence as “an ability to do the right thing at a right time”. This would imply that an intelligent agent may not have a brain, or a central neural system, yet it is capable of sensing its environment, has some internal objective or plan for how it wants to change the world to its benefit, and is capable of interacting with the world to achieve that change. A stone, for example, doesn’t comply with this definition: it just sits in the sun. But the plant does: it responds to its surrounding, moving its leaves towards the sun.
What are the possible examples of non-anthropomorphic intelligences? What can these be? What about the intelligences of hybrid systems, in which humans and the non-human agents of various scale act together and change one another? These questions are worth asking, since the obtained answers will shape the future of our world. It is inevitable that we will discover new kinds of intelligence — and manufacture intelligences in all that we make, but it is not so obvious what their character will be: what will be included and excluded from the scope of intelligent beings. In his book, Kevin Kelly, the founder of WIRED magazine, suggested a thought experiment in imagining the possible minds. “A mind capable of imagining a greater mind, but incapable of making it. A mind capable of creating a greater mind, but not self-aware enough to imagine it. A mind capable of successfully making a greater mind, once. A mind capable of creating a greater mind that can create a yet greater mind, etc. A mind capable of immortality by migrating from platform to platform. A rapid, dynamic mind capable of changing the process and character of its cognition.” These are just a few examples from a long list.
In 2020 at Exposed, we would like to take Kelly’s experiments further: to begin with imagining the possible intelligent agents and systems that may include (yet are not dominated by) a human; to then enact and stage these scenarios in our project space — as exhibitions, workshops, role games, performances, speculative design sessions, and other tools for teasing the potential futures and their unintended consequences.
If the task of debiasing intelligence from anthropomorphism resonates with you practice and research — or it is something you are interested in exploring, we would like to hear from you. At this moment, we are looking for artistic and non-artistic statements to be presented as a part of our programme in 2020. These could be something as specific as an artwork, an event proposal, a text, a poster, or a reading group; it could also be an expression of interest to join our 2020 research group and develop a project from scratch together with our team.
If these options sound appealing, please get in touch by the 10th of January 2020 to share your vision and ideas.
We look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org 🔮🛠🧬