Forging The Gods
April 18th - May 11th, 2019
Tuesday - Sunday 12pm - 7pm
Thursday 12pm - 9pm
423 Broadway, New York City
Metaphors, myths, and stories shape the way we understand the world, the way we think. One could argue that they are an essential part of what constitutes human intelligence—the ability to imagine and articulate ideas and communicate them to others. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then that the myth of man-made artificial beings, fashioned in our own image, is one that has persisted since antiquity. “Our history is full of attempts—nutty, eerie, comical, earnest, legendary, and real—to make artificial intelligences, to reproduce what is the essential us—bypassing the ordinary means. Back and forth between myth and reality, our imaginations supplying what our workshops couldn't, we have engaged for a long time in this odd form of self-reproduction," writes AI historian Pamela McCorduck in Machines Who Think.
These myths date back to our most canonical storytelling, from the ancient Greek myth of Hephaestus, god of fire and divine smith, who forged artificial attendants to help him in his workshop (the story ends with Pandora unwittingly unleashing all the world’s evils) to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which reads like a Victorian parable on the dangers of naive and hubristic scientific and technological pursuits. Since AI’s emergence as a field in the 1950s, the myth has proliferated with a litany of examples from popular culture—The Terminator, I, Robot, Ex Machina—all of which depict superintelligent machines that threaten to rise up against their creators and destroy humanity. It would seem that, throughout human history, both the desire to create intelligent beings in our own image (an act of “god-like” power) and the belief that such artificial agents would lead to calamity have been firmly implanted in our psyches. Nevertheless, development in AI marches on, heedless of the warning signs. Perhaps it’s time for new myths to take hold?
Many artists today choose to question and subvert these popular narratives of AI, taking an approach that thwarts the typically Western, male, and anthropocentric stories we’ve inherited. In part, this serves to shake off the veil of illusion, of scientific objectivity and infallibility, exposing the embedded biases, assumptions, failures, and the invisible human labor that often still powers today’s AI. Rather than paint a picture of some future superintelligent entity, they help us better see and understand the AI that is already here, embedded in everyday mundane interactions and bureaucratic systems. These counter narratives lend some intelligibility to otherwise opaque and incomprehensible processes that are ultimately far more insidious, and present a greater threat, than a robot uprising. They also offer up alternative ways of conceptualizing and defining intelligence, often considering non-human intelligences, such as animal or ecological, or the collective intelligence of ancestral knowledge.
Taken together, the works in this show offer us new metaphors for thinking about the nature of intelligence, the kind of intelligent entities we might want to forge in the future, and the trappings of the limited “artificial intelligence” that is increasingly shaping our world today.
Zach Blas and Jemima Wyman
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