in Research

Thoughts on Automated Utopia

There were many interesting pieces of work that were presented during the lecture, but the one that intrigued me the most was the piece by Sougwen Chung.

One of her most well-known pieces is ‘Drawing Operations(2017)‘ It is an ongoing exploration of the synergy between machine and human thought. At its core, the machine employs a deep-learning neural network to categorise, characterise and systemise Chung’s hand strokes. There are many interesting implications to this setup, if we delve beyond the usual aesthetic and novelty aspects.

A.I. as we know it has yet to reach a stage of true original intelligence. The touted intelligence thus far is still human by design, far from being sentient and original. However, neural networks have expanded this frontier by adding into the mix astronomical amounts of probability and variation. Given enough permutations, creative work derived from a well-trained network can start to look and smell original.

Coming back to our example, the beauty of this ‘collaboration’ between wo-man and machine exists on a theological level. The machine observes her hand strokes, reduces it to a database of abstractions, thereby this is theoretically the essence of her artistic impulses. One can see this as a primitive, yet probable abstraction of her creative persona. As the machine participates in more sessions, this recurring feedback loop between raw digital bits and human nuances is slowly codified into something inexplicable and irreproducible(on a human level). I find this is in many ways similar to the abstract representations of how convolutional neural network break down images into irreducible parts.

That said, I think the machine can be seen as a digital extension of Chung’s creative consciousness, a soulless, abstract entity of her movements and creative sensibilities. I think the real work here is not the beautiful pieces that are produced, but the codification of Chung into something more than flesh and blood; something that will surely outlive her and all of us.