The intangible set is made up of 3D images that are fattening when viewed through plastic glasses. A single character of flesh and blood wanders through the scene, an actress who spends the show in constant dialogue. It is not a contradiction, nor is it that the interpreter is talking to herself: she is talking to someone, but that someone is not a person but an artificial intelligence (AI), a chatbot with a woman’s voice that is giving a reply to her tribulations related to love, relationships and loneliness. Since the machine —and the person— are intelligent entities (each one, yes, in their own way), every new encounter on the tables provides them with additional information. With each cumulative performance they know more about each other, also about the topics they discuss in their conversations, so that the performances always end up being different, improvised. Both characters, the real and the virtual, act as protagonists of the play SH4ADOWa pioneering proposal in the use of generative AI on stage, premiered on March 23 at the Teatros del Canal in Madrid within the programming of the Canal Connect Festival (until April 23), an inquiry into the influence of the machine on human evolution. The theme of this third edition of the contest, which includes performing arts and an exhibition, revolves around the crossroads between the organic and the inorganic: an ethical, philosophical and even physiological expedition in search of that elusive place where the borders are located. of what we agree to call life.
In the midst of the explosion of ChatGPT —a sophisticated language model that acts as a confidant, informant, ghostwriter, translator and calculator— it is inevitable to think of AI as the benchmark in capital letters for the blurring of the lines that separate the capabilities that until now we judged eminently human from the artificial ones. However, in the exhibition at the Teatros del Canal, titled organic machine, technology understood in all its breadth is addressed, including its theoretical aspect, placed at the service of art as a lever for experimentation. “As the philosopher Bernard Stiegler says, technology goes faster than our ability to understand it,” says Charles Carcopino, the curator of the exhibition, which includes 23 pieces by national and international creators, from Filip Custic and María Castellanos to France Cadet and Yosra Mohtajedi. “In this way, our mission is to raise questions and stimulate the imagination, at the same time that we warn of the dangers, because obviously right now all the alarm bells are ringing. Technology is causing a rapid evolution of the Earth’s climate, and art tries to recreate the possible scenarios.
Thus, one of the proposals of the Canadian Sabrina Ratté that can be seen on the tour, the installation Objets-Monde, Part of photographs of abandoned objects such as cars and computer screens to recreate on video a post-anthropocentric (and post-apocalyptic) world turned into a dump of universal proportions. The question of identity and transhumanism, the fusion of meat with the machine, appears in works such as Augmented Reflections, by Ines Alpha and Johanna Jaskowska, who give augmented reality filters the same decorative role as make-up or jewelry; and Pi(x)el, a hyper-realistic sculpture covered in screens that show different parts of the changing body, through which Filip Custic from the Canary Islands reflects on the normalization of body modifications to the point where they will soon “cease to have importance”. Plant life forms are also blended with technology in the works of artists such as the French duo of Gregory Lasserre and Anais met den Ancxt, who in scenecosme they turn hanging plants into living sensors that react to touch by emitting melodies; as well as in Unexpected Ecosystems, by María Castellanos, an installation that explores the interaction of plants and AI. “Plants learn from machines”, explains the artist, whose work explores the idea of using technology “to dialogue with other living beings”.
Unlike the AI in the play SH4DOWwho plays the role of active subject in the show, altering the final result, the pieces the exhibition organic machine they are not created by the machines themselves, but by people who use technology as a tool and not as an end in itself. In fact, the artist Mónica Rikic claims manual labor through the proposals of her series Species, which includes pieces such as an artifact that suffers from impostor syndrome: “He complains because it is exposed as a work of art, but it is not, because it is a computer and art is incomputable,” explains the Barcelonan. This work of “manual electronics”, a kind of viscous brain that swells and contracts, is connected to a pedal that the visitor can step on if they want to “kill” it, thus triggering a questioning around “the possible existence of of the consciousness of machines”. In the event that one day robots become aware of their own reality, they may decide to imitate human processes. That is what the French France Cadet proposes in Demain the robotsa video installation where, through tinted windows, you can observe the gestation process of a small and adorable android.
The implicit question in these works of whether technology will end up gaining autonomy is one of the multiple conceptual lines that will converge in the exhibition Artificial intelligence, which will take place at the CCCB in Barcelona starting next October. The short answer to the question, as the commissioner Lluís Nacenta points out, is no. The long one would add to the adverb a “at least, for now”. “We are far from a truly independent AI because today AI is only specialized, not generalist,” he clarifies. In other words, the algorithm can be perfectly trained as a chess master, but it turns out to be incapable of playing checkers at the same time. “And it is not a problem of capacity or size, but of the very nature of neural networks”, he adds.
Through the works of musicians, plastic and computer artists —from Massive Attack to Mario Klingemann and Joy Buolamwini—, the future exhibition at the CCCB aspires above all to “demystify, remove fears, explain the options and bring people closer”. Faced with omens such as that machines will end up stealing our jobs or even dominating us as a species, the commissioner defends that these apprehensions come “more from science fiction than from science”, a statement that is shared almost with the same words by Idoia Salazar, journalist and founder of OdysseIA, an observatory of the social and ethical impact of AI, which will participate in one of the talks included in the Canal Connect programming. “There are many prejudices,” he corroborates, “but in the end, problems such as racist and sexist discrimination that AI reproduces do not depend on the technology itself, but on what we human beings do with it.”
Among the possible applications that can and will be made of technology, one that especially invites us to think about the limits of human nature, of what defines us and distinguishes us from the machine, is precisely that of artistic creation. From Chat GPT to Dall-E and Soundraw, it’s been a long time since novels have been written, pictures painted and melodies created with a respectable quality and without the intervention of the elusive human inspiration. But, as Lluís Nacenta points out, to date no AI system “capable of the artistic creativity of a human” has been seen. “Experts tell us that AI is extremely adept at imitating, reproducing what we know and making variations on what we know,” he continues, “but it always learns from us, so it’s not capable of doing anything. that a human hasn’t done before.” Mikael Fock, the director of the play SH4DOWsummarizes the moral that he offers for this dilemma with the homonymous story by his compatriot Hans Christian Andersen (The shadow), which tells the story of a wise man who loses his shadow. When she returns, she does so in a human form that she has acquired after visiting Poetry in her own home and ends up killing him. “Now, our mobile phones are like that shadow, they go with us everywhere,” says the director. “So we have to be careful, and never allow them to enter the house of poetry.”
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