Treating your A.I. to a roadtrip

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing a cowboy, a horse and a car. The cowboy is talking to the horse. The caption reads: ‘You have to believe me – if you had air-conditioning, I’d take you to Tulsa’.

The cowboy didn’t take his horse to Tulsa (as far as I know), but a creative technologist took his A.I. from New York to New Orleans. The travelling A.I. was a neural-network computer system equipped with several sensors for capturing the atmosphere on the road: images and sounds (camera and mic), sense of time (internal clock) and space (GPS).

The artificial intelligence companion enjoyed the 4-day trip so much that it wrote a ‘serialised’ novel on the way, in real time, using a connected printer. It’s titled 1 the Road and it’s the first novel written by an artificially intelligent author. The result is a disjointed account of the roadtrip using natural language programming, machine learning and lots of processed information coming from the sensors.

The story is fascinating and you may read it here.

This A.I. novelist is an epitome of our times: technology moving so fast that the first piece of artificial fiction is produced on the go, a kind of takeaway literature heated up in silicon pop-up kitchens.

The cultural challenge of artificial intelligence does not come from technology, but from language. It is the way we talk about it.

Talking about machine learning and the A.I. in anthropomorphic terms fulfills the needs of desiderata, things we wish that they match the names we give them. Intelligence, neural networks, learning, understanding, creation, composition, etc, are terms we now use in regards to machine cognition. They used to be ways of describing the human project. We’ve taken these terms for granted because no-one bothers to explain them and to show the difference. Nevertheless, they have an ethnological benefit, that of holding up a mirror to the past and future of our post-industrial western culture. They point out that our technology is emulative and has developed through imitation of natural/human functions, in the same way aviation is a high-tech commentary on birds; they also explain some of our hopes and dreams, those of moving beyond the human through ways of being that until now have been reserved only for the human species. In other words, we used to make technology in our image, but now we imagine ourselves in its own.


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