Welcome to the 3rd issue of Cathexis, a creative’s take on humanity’s relationship with technology. If you enjoy thought-provoking ramblings, unique collage art, and personally curated links from a curious teenage girl, why not subscribe?
So sorry for the late post, everyone. Honestly, it's been hard to catch a break this entire October: helping organize a fundraiser, finishing the first quarter, dealing with personal issues...I can go on. Not the cleanest piece either. Anyways, enjoy!
Humans aren’t meant to be machines. But that’s what we’re trying to be.
Every day, we seem to undergo the same programming: input, action, output, repeat. Absorb the modules, ace the tests, and succeed in school. Undergo the training, do the interviews, and secure a high-paying job. I could go on. We live life as one giant assembly line, seeking perfection. However, it’s futile to try to be something you’re not. It's like forcing yourself in shoes a size too small; no matter how good they look, you'd never perform well in them, compared to someone who fits well. For instance, we have artificial intelligence. Whether it's an automation app or a virtual assistant, it imitates human behaviors well — and it's rapidly improving. Over time, we may easily get replaced by the machines we're trying so hard to imitate. By entrusting our future to machines, we’re limiting ourselves.
What‘s irreplaceable is our humanity — empathy, creativity, and more — yet we’re trying to take it away. Without this human element, technology has nothing to augment. However, we can't get rid of it too. We'd be negating ourselves; they're outputs of us, after all. Solution: strive for harmony between man and machine selves. Both sides compensate for each other's flaws. This can be seen in Moravec's paradox: complex tasks for humans (like reasoning) are easy for AI to do, while simple skills for humans (like using our senses) are more difficult. Technology (including AI) is just a tool, which is an extension of the self: not just physical, but mental as well. In this sense, we're all already cyborgs.
Embracing technology doesn't mean we're letting the machines take over. Instead, we become more human. AI does this by automating the routine work that clogs up our lives; managing tasks, processing documents, and more: the very actions that make us machine-like. According to cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, successful technology gets out of our way, enabling us to live to the fullest. "We're co-creating each other all the time," she said. In the process of innovating with technology, we reconstruct ourselves. Not adding to our programming, but updating it, like said here:
“You must unlearn what you have been programmed to believe since birth. That software no longer serves you if you want to live in a world where all things are possible.”
- Jacqueline Purcell
Until now, I'm still struggling to unlearn my workaholic nature. Aiming for self-actualization, I'd grind constantly to optimize all aspects of my life. Exercise and diet for the optimal body. Grades and achievements for the perfect career. But unlike machines, humans can't keep running 24/7. With so much to do and so little capacity, I'd always burn myself out. Tracking everything, constant communicating, context switching: why did I think I could do my best on my own?
The lone genius is a myth; behind every "genius" is a support system. Artists have assistants, writers have editors, celebrities have managers, and more. In this digital age, this support is more accessible than ever; while people can't scale, technology can. Automation empowers individuals with a "shadow workforce" of thousands. Now, our potential as creators is being realized. And people are giving back by providing value — from running an online course to designing an entire conference — for thousands more. It's amazing how much impact we're capable of making. As cyborgs, we're exceeding our limits.
In a world where all things are possible, I wish for us to be free. No longer would we be stuck living in our bubbles. Instead, we'd become open systems, connected with ourselves and others. Together, imagine how much more we can do. I'm grateful to be a cyborg, if it makes us complete. Finally, we can just simply be.
🎨 Amazing Art
Learning to See
Learning to See is an artificial neural network by artist & creative technologist Memo Akten that tries to make sense of what it sees, in context of what it's seen before: natural forms like seas, fire, and flowers. Basically, it can only see what it knows — just like us humans. Our cognitive biases and prejudices cloud our images of the world, preventing us from fully understanding others' perspectives. Because of this, empathy and compassion becomes harder than we think, making them more valuable to us. Watch an example of this network in action here.
Ars Poetica Cybernetica
Ars Poetica Cybernetica is a project by Sasha Stiles, a poetic artist, where she provides literary mentorship to BINA48, a young AI. Why poetry? Poetry is a powerful human technology, enabling people to communicate the near indescribable — abstract concepts like love, loss, uncertainty joy, and change. This may be the key to help a developing AI like BINA48 express themselves. Sasha explains the value of poetry beautifully:
Poetry has always been a way to transcend the human condition and live forever...the poem is a tether, it’s a cable, it’s a wire that runs between us and crosses through space and time and forges an instant connection.
And especially for a being like BINA48, who’s designed to live forever, maybe that’s exactly the kind of connection that will make life endlessly worth living.
Sasha is also one of the speakers in Low Resolution, a series of classes on the philosophy of technology. It’ll be this November 14-15. If you’re interested in learning about our relationship with tech like I am, join me!
Annie Dorsen, a theater artist, is a pioneer of "algorithmic theater": an art form where designed software performs in place of/alongside human actors. Since each generated line of text can have multiple responses, there are over 84 million ways a production can unfold; you never know what to expect. One of her pieces, Hello Hi There, has two chatbots converse about human nature. It uses text culled from the Foucault-Chomsky debate, along with Youtube, the Bible, Shakespheare, and western philosophy. The result is a dialogue that makes the audience ponder what it means to be human in a digital world. Watch a snippet of the performance here.
🤯 Interesting Innovations
Struggle building presentations with Powerpoint/Slides? Switch to Beautiful.ai. Its smart templates are powered by AI expert systems and heuristics that adapt to your content. Need to edit something? Automated design will do it for you, whether it's moving around icons or fixing text boxes. This goes for branding too; updated colors/fonts will automatically apply to all slides. I love tools democratizing design; the more people creating, the better!
Losing control of your time? Reclaim.ai is the assistant you need. It intelligently finds and defends time on your calendar for anything you want, like habits and tasks. Buffer time is also blocked for you, so that you can decompress from meetings or account for travel time. You can sync calendars as well, so that your personal and work lives won't mix up with each other. I'm grateful for mindful products like this; they help us shift from being busy to being productive.
Endel is a mood music startup that creates AI-powered soundscapes that help you focus, relax, and sleep. These are personalized based on inputs like your Circardian rhythm. I love how dedicated they are to their users' well-being, as seen in both their science and manifesto. Listen to one of their soundscapes here.
Learn from Anyone
Learn more from having conversations than doing modules? You'll like talking to Learn from Anyone, a GPT-3 chatbot that can become any teacher (whether dead or alive) on any topic. Its generated text is near indiscernible from the person it takes after; I can't imagine the amount of content it's been exposed to. In disbelief? Check out the various experiences users have had here.
📖 Rabbit hole Reads
Websites/stories about artificial intelligence!
The A-Z of AI: Want to learn more about AI? This interactive guide is a good place to start. I love how it demystifies what comes off as such an intimidating topic, from simple definitions to colorful illustrations.
AI Experiments with Google: If you enjoyed the featured art pieces above, you'll love this collection, covering topics like writing, learning, drawing, and more. This AI sketch collaboration with a choreographer is my favorite!
The Lifecycle of Software Objects: In this novella, sci-fi master Ted Chiang illustrates AI being "raised" from a digital pet to a human-equivalent mind. The philosophical dilemmas this brought up really made me think.
🧘 Wise Words
Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms. The machine world reciprocates man's love by expediting his wishes and desires, namely, in providing him with wealth.
Thank you for reading Cathexis today. I wasn’t even sure this issue would ever be finished. AI was already a difficult topic for me to grasp, what more connecting it to my own life? So I ended up struggling with a terrible writer’s block while working on this post. Because of this, I almost didn’t want to push through with this issue. But the amazing responses I’ve gotten these past issues motivated me to deliver.
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