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Beyond the Machine: Artificially Intelligent

机器之外:人工“智慧”

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Text Irini Papadimitriou  文 伊睿尼 帕帕迪米迪欧






Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops — but not on our lines. The Machine proceeds — but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die.”

E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops






In E.M. Forster’s short story, The Machine Stops, humans live isolated in pods deep underground; a kind of video screen communication system is how they can contact or talk to others. There is no need to meet or be close with people. Light, food, water, communication, clothing, culture, are at the touch of a button, and humans are entirely dependent on the machine that has taken over and can provide all essentials.

The Machine Stops is a nightmarish exploration of the effect of technology on our lives, bodies, relationships and culture. When it was published, in 1909, it must have caused quite a stir. At that time, the world was well into the second industrial revolution with technological changes deep into areas from transportation and machinery to labour and urbanisation.

The Machine Stops was apparently Forster’s pessimistic response to the work of H.G. Wells and in particular A Modern Utopia, which had been published a few years earlier. In A Modern Utopia the narrator is transported in a liberal, altruistic, peaceful world, a society of universal education, universal income, equality, fairness and opportunity for all. This world is enhanced and enlightened by technology. In A Modern Utopia machinery is everywhere, “the discovery of new materials, and the appearance of new social possibilities through the organised pursuit of material science, has given enormous and unprecedented facilities to the spirit of innovation”.

Forster, on the contrary, presents us with a dehumanised world, where the machine has replaced labour, skills and most human activity. The machine manages human life and all needs are met at the touch of a button, while a “Mending Apparatus” is there to fix any issues. “The Machine” is invisible and unknown. We don’t know if someone controls it or how it operates, and what might happen if one day it stops.

Forster’s work which explores our place in a technological world that is losing the meaning of humanness is relevant more than ever. We might be quite far away from the world presented above, however it is not always obvious - how much our own world and society is dependent on machines. Our exchanges are increasingly mediated by technology and for the first time we have at our disposal not only access to vast amounts of information, but also a selection of technological tools offering us opportunities and possibilities never imagined before; the chance to make previously unsung voices heard, inclusive, collaborative tools, citizen empowerment and innovation, distributed participatory systems, to name a few. On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already embedded in many aspects of our everyday life and society and will be driven by it even more in the near future; from healthcare, finance, manufacturing, education and linguistics to business, law, policing, and more. In a constant search for Utopia, we are aiming for advanced technological systems establishing what we believe as superior versions of our world, environment and ourselves. These invisible, complex systems become more and more rooted in everyday activity; we give them more power and with it more responsibilities, while our trust and dependence on them has become normalised.

At the same time - and mostly thanks to how advanced technologies and AI are being presented in popular media - most of us have a false picture of these systems and a limited or skewed understanding as to how they have been transforming society. We tend to anthropomorphise technology, to assign machines human behaviours, personalities, gender. When it comes to technology, even the language we use is misleading, presenting a world that sounds magical, immaterial or beyond reach.

Although we constantly use and are exposed to digital technologies, we ignore what lies beneath; from how and for whom devices are designed, the conditions under which they are made, labour and conflict minerals to obsolescence, data collection, surveillance, and so on. We are surrounded and constantly listened to by a network of connected objects; a small number of corporations have unprecedented access to users’ data and can influence or control access to information as never before. And most concerning of all, automated decisions and judgements - based on unfair and biased assumptions - become more and more common, having an impact on vulnerable people or minority groups.

Heading towards an automated world, are we becoming accustomed to services, invisible infrastructures and opaque technologies without asking critical questions or discussing the ethical implications of these services? Should we trust companies with our personal data and privacy and how do we know how automated decisions are made– if they are fair or how they affect us? How can we stimulate critical thinking skills to navigate these new challenging areas? And what is the role of digital art and public art institutions when it comes to understanding the social issues created by digital technologies?

Engaging with ‘digital’ through artworks and related activity in public art institutions, it is questions like these that we should try to raise and explore, creating a space to foster exchange and debate – bridging the gap between culture, academia and other sectors, especially the tech industry. Digital art and design have a significant role in engaging with and exploring new technologies, as well as enabling much needed conversations around these to happen. Artists have always had a pioneering role in terms of being the first to reflect on the present, on society, culture and the future, asking difficult questions, while raising awareness about power and powerlessness in the age of digital information.

Similarly, in public art institutions we need to create neutral spaces that can transcend borders and engage different disciplines in constructive dialogue. Spaces like these have an important role in initiating and shaping critical discussions about these pressing issues of our times, foregrounding the impact of technology within society to examine how people can have a central role in shaping the future, rather than being fed a vision of it from a handful of powerful corporations.

From a curatorial perspective and practice, and through programmes such as the Digital Design Weekend (DDW) that I initiated while based at the V&A, I have been interested on exploring our complex relationship with technology placing an emphasis on collaboration, exchange, participation and critical response. The Museum, as a public space, becomes a site to engage with contemporary issues, share creative processes and demystify technology. A site where creative practitioners, researchers, technologists and citizens can com together to explore the intersections of technology, art and design and the state of digital culture through installations, workshops, labs, critical discussions and performances.

Starting by exploring ‘what is digital’ and how it is manifested in our lives and society, and investigating ideas such as big data, AI, the Internet of Things, human-machine relationships, we are imagining how we can begin to unveil these invisible systems and try to understand or explore what lies beneath.

Looking into themes of the personal, public and cosmic influences of technology, projects such as Artificially Intelligent, aim to provoke questions about machines and humanness. How can we go beyond dystopian/ utopian visions or popular stereotypes, and instead look at the present state of implementation with a human-scale perspective? And how we can enable discussion about our interactions with technology, the social and ethical implications of artificial intelligence, including bias, trust, control? By opening doors to experimentation and collective making, encouraging communities and people to create and participate, question and not passively consume, we can nurture critical thinking and prepare the next generations for new challenges ahead.

Technology will not always be the solution to everything and it won’t always save us. We need to be able to see beyond this and keep our future focused on the realities of our world and on a human vision, remembering that we are more than data.

I’d known for a long time how to observe in order to see. In order to form understanding that leads to reaction. However, the question growing inside me had suddenly distorted my perception.  

Under the Stone (original title Sous Béton), a novella by Quebec-based artist Karoline Georges, takes the claustrophobic underground world of The Machine Stops to a different level. Georges presents us with an oppressive structure, a “Total Concrete”, a grey and impenetrable tower that houses all remaining humans in a post-apocalyptic world. The inhabitants are constantly under surveillance and constrained to the tower. They are reduced to their basic needs, fed and drugged by the structure, and trained to carry out tasks that keep the Tower going. They passively accept their condition without question or objection.

We follow the main character, a nameless boy residing in a suffocating tower with his abusive parents, who slowly transforms and manages to distinguish himself from the dormant residents by experiencing a sudden awakening.

The world in Under the Stone is brutal, depressing and hopeless. Georges reveals a place where people are reduced to passively accepting their reality, without the will to break free from their prison-Tower, but again how can they possibly break free if they haven’t learned to see beyond their concrete walls? Under the Stone presents us with a nightmarish version of the future, one that hopefully will only remain a speculative idea. When the question Why? Appears repetitively in the boy’s mind, he finally transcends the monochromatic walls of the tower and develops the ability to see and understand the world around him. By empowering himself through questioning the world around him, he can finally see what lies beneath the concrete structure and resist.






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Irini Papadimitriou is a curator, producer and cultural manager, working in the UK and internationally. Currently Creative Director at FutureEverything, an innovation lab and arts organisation in Manchester, she was previously Digital Programmes Manager at the V&A, where she initiated and curated the annual Digital Design Weekend festival and Digital Futures among other programmes. She was also Head of New Media Arts Development at Watermans, where she curated the exhibition programme, exploring digital culture from a critical perspective and the impact of technology in society.

Her most recent exhibition, Artificially Intelligent, was on display at the V&A from September to December 2018. She is a co-founder of Maker Assembly, a critical gathering about maker culture: its meaning, politics, history and future.







在E.M.福斯特的故事《机器停止》里,人类都活在地底深处一个个孤立的豆荚里,并通过一种搭载着影像屏幕的沟通系统互相联系与对话。人们不再需要线下相会或彼此亲近。光线,食物,水源,交流,服饰,文化……都一键可得,而人类也彻底依靠着这些接管世界的机器,并仰仗它们提供基础生活物资。

《机器停止》是关于技术对于我们生活,身体,关系和文化之影响力的一种噩梦般的想象。当这本书于1909年出版时,想必掀起了不少讨论。第二次工业革命正深度波及世界,技术改革正在各个领域深度蔓延:从交通到机械生产,从工人劳动到城镇化。

《机器停止》显然也是福斯特对H.G.威尔士的作品,尤其是《一个现代乌托邦》的一种消极回应。后者于《机器停止》前几年问世。在《一个现代乌托邦》中,叙述者被迁移到了一个自由,利他而安宁的世界,在这个社会里,教育无处不在,收入全球均等,平等是共识,而所有人都享有同样的机遇。这个世界被技术所增强,也得到了技术的感召。在《一个现代乌托邦》中,机器生产无处不在,“the discovery of new materials, and the appearance of new social possibilities through the organised pursuit of material science, has given enormous and unprecedented facilities to the spirit of innovation”.

与之相反,福斯特则向我们呈现了一种去人性化的世界,在这里,机器取代了劳动与技能,替换了几乎所有的人类活动。机器监理着人们的生活,而一切物资都靠按键获得。与此同时,一台“修复机”正孜孜不倦地修复着任何机械故障。“机器” 是无形而未知的。我们并不知道它背后是否有个操纵者,更无从知晓当它停止时,会发生什么。

福斯特的工作也探讨了在技术世界中我们自身的位置,这个世界似乎正在失去“人情味”的意义。或许我们离《机器停止》所描述的未来还尚遥远,但事实上,我们自身的世界和社会对机器的依赖程度,并不总是显而易见。我们之间的交流正在愈发由技术作为中介实现,与此同时,海量信息历史上从未如今天一般触手可及,我们同时还拥有诸多技术工具,它们为我们提供了前所未有的机会和可能性,我们可以用工具使得被埋没之声被听见,我们拥有范围广泛的合作式工具,工具增强了公民性和创造力,又或者那些分布式的参与系统,如是等等。另一方面,人工智能(AI)也已经嵌入在我们日常生活和社会的方方面面,并且会在近未来更为有力地驱动社会前进;从健康,金融,制造业,教育到语言学,商业,法律,政策制定等各种领域,都受到AI技术的影响。在我们对乌托邦孜孜不倦的求索中,我们眼光指向着那些先进的技术系统,并认为它们象征着我们的世界,环境乃至自身的“超强版本”。这些无形的复杂系统在今天的日常活动中愈发根深蒂固,我们也赋予了它们更多的权力与责任,同时,我们对它们的信任和依赖也成为日常。

与此同时——这也主要因为先进技术和AI正在被大众媒体大肆渲染——这些系统在我们眼里的图景,大都是不精确的,甚至我们对这些技术到底如何改变了社会形态,也存在认知局限和理解偏差。我们喜欢将技术拟人化,给机器赋予人类行为特征,性格乃至性别。当被运用在科技话题上时,甚至我们的语言也时常产生误导性,描述了一个听起来神奇的、非物质的,不可触及的世界。

尽管我们总是使用数字技术,也曝露在技术环境里,我们通常会忽略这些技术底层的东西:这些设备是如何被设计的,是为谁设计的,它们的制造条件是什么,制造过程中的人力成本和所穷尽的矿物资源,数字设备的数据收集与监控等等。 我们被互联的设备围绕,并时刻处于它们的监听之下;少数几家科技公司拥有前所未见的对世界用户数据的获取权,并可以影响乃至控制我们对信息的获取路径。更为甚者,我们也处在许多自动决策和判断的算法环境里,这些算法可能自带一些不公正或偏见性假设,这一处境也愈发常见,并对弱势和少数群体造成了一定的影响。

我们正在驶向一个自动化的世界,我们是否已经习惯了这些数字服务,不可见的数字基础设施和半透明的技术环境,并不再去提出批判性的问题或考虑这些服务的伦理寓意?我们是否可以信任地把个人数据和隐私托付给这些公司,我们如何能知道自动决策是如何进行的——它们是否公正,对我们产生了什么影响?我们如何能激发批判性的思考,以游弋在这些充满挑战的新领域之间?数字艺术和公共艺术机构在理解数字科技所带来的社会问题上,应当扮演什么角色?

通过艺术作品和公共艺术机构里的相关活动来介入“数字”概念本身,恰恰是我们应当提出和探索的地方,我们可以创造一个增强交流和讨论的空间,去弥合广泛文化,学界和其他要素,尤其是科技产业之间的沟壑。数字艺术与设计也促使人们参与和探索新技术,并鼓励有关这些新技术的讨论发生。艺术家在“回应当下,文化和未来”这方面,一直是领头羊,他们善于提出刁钻的问题,并唤起在数字信息时代人们对于权力和“无权”的意识。

类似地,在公共艺术机构中,我们也有必要创造一种中性空间,让它能够消解学科边界,并提供建设性对话的场域。这类型的空间可以发起和塑造关于我们时代迫在眉睫之议题的批判性讨论,并把数字科技对社会的影响摆到台前,研究人们是否可以自主设计我们的未来,而不是照单全收少数几家科技公司所塑造的未来形象。

从策展角度和实践而言,并通过我在V&A发起的“数字设计周末”项目的设计,我也持续探索人类和技术之间的复杂关系,同时强调合作,交换,参与和批判性回应的重要性。博物馆作为一个公共空间,成为探讨当代课题,分享创造性活动,并为科技“祛魅”的场所。在这里,创造者,研究者,技术研发者和更多人可以研究技术,艺术和设计的交叉处,并且通过装置,工作坊,实验室,批判性讨论和表演等行动,来思考今天数字文化的状态。

项目的起点是探索“何为数字”,研究数字的概念如何显现在我们的生活和社会,并进而探究包括大数据,人工智能,物联网,人机关系在内的一系列课题,我们正在想象我们如何可以揭开无形技术系统的面纱,并试图理解乃至探究其内在的架构。

类似于《人工“智慧”》这样的项目思考的是技术对个人,公众乃至全球的影响,并且试图提出关于机器和人性的课题。我们如何可以超越对技术单向度的反乌托邦/乌托邦式思考或流行的刻板印象,而是用人视角来观看技术在当下的植入状态?我们如何可以建立起关于我们与技术之间交互状态,以及包括偏见、信任和控制在内的一系列人工智能的社会和伦理寓意的讨论?项目试图向各种类型的实验和联合创作敞开大门,鼓励不同的群体来创造,参与与提问,而非简单地消费技术概念,我们希望能培养出批判性的思考方式,并希望下一代人能更好地准备面临新的挑战。

技术从来都不是万灵药,也不是救命丹。我们需要具备超越技术的能力,并将未来锚定在我们世界的现实和人性观看之上,时刻记住我们不仅仅只是一堆数据

“很久以来,我都知道,如需看见,先需观察;先有领会,方有行动。然而,我内心萌发的问题突然扭曲了我的感知。”

《巨石之下》(原题:Sous Béton)是常驻加拿大魁北克的艺术家卡罗林·乔治的小说,故事把《机器停止》所描述的幽闭恐惧的地下世界又发展到了下一地步。乔治向我们呈现了一种压抑的结构,一种“整体具型”,这是一个灰色的、不可穿透的塔楼,里头住着在末日之后幸存的人类。人类的生存需求被降到最低,塔楼喂养着他们,并给他们服药,同时训练他们完成维持塔楼运转的基本任务。这些人类幸存者被动地接受了他们的处境,从不怀疑,永不反抗。

故事主角是一个没有姓名,居住在这令人窒息的塔里的男孩,他的双亲对他施加着虐待。我们跟随主角的成长线索,观看着他如何缓慢地改变,并最终有能力与塔楼里其他人区分开来,获得顿然觉醒的过程。

《巨石之下》的故事是冷酷,抑郁和绝望的。乔治揭露了这样的一种世界:人们被还原到一种只可被动接受现实的境地,不再有决心破牢而出,离开这令人恐惧的巨塔。然而,他们如果从未见过那水泥墙外的风景,他们又从何而来穿破的可能?《巨石之下》描述了一个噩梦一般的未来,希望它只是一种幻想。当“为什么?”这个问题反复出现在男主角的脑海,他才得以超脱那灰暗的石墙,并可以看见和理解周遭的一切。他从向周遭世界提问开始,才能终究窥得世界那坚不可摧的结构之下,到底有什么,最终才有可能反抗。



《机器之外:人工“智慧”》是在V&A数字设计周的写作项目里一篇文章的修改版,编辑:

Irini Papadimitriou, Andrew Prescott and Jon Rogers.